While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand A.P. Eagers Limited (ASX:APE).
A.P. Eagers has a ROE of 13%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each A$1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made A$0.13 in profit.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for A.P. Eagers:
13% = AU$92m ÷ AU$699m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)
It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does ROE Mean?
ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does A.P. Eagers Have A Good ROE?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see A.P. Eagers has a similar ROE to the average in the Specialty Retail industry classification (13%).
That's neither particularly good, nor bad. ROE tells us about the quality of the business, but it does not give us much of an idea if the share price is cheap. I will like A.P. Eagers better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
A.P. Eagers's Debt And Its 13% ROE
A.P. Eagers clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.30. Its ROE is quite good but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
The Bottom Line On ROE
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.
But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
Of course A.P. Eagers may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.
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