Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Prologis, Inc. (NYSE:PLD).
Over the last twelve months Prologis has recorded a ROE of 7.0%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.070.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Prologis:
7.0% = US$1.6b ÷ US$26b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 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?
Return on Equity measures a company's profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does Prologis Have A Good Return On Equity?
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. The image below shows that Prologis has an ROE that is roughly in line with the REITs industry average (6.7%).
That's not overly surprising. 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 Prologis better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Prologis's Debt And Its 7.0% Return On Equity
Although Prologis does use debt, its debt to equity ratio of 0.41 is still low. Its ROE isn't particularly impressive, but the debt levels are quite modest, so the business probably has some real potential. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.
But It's Just One Metric
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 when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
But note: Prologis may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with high ROE and low debt.
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