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. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Qualstar Corporation (NASDAQ:QBAK).
Over the last twelve months Qualstar has recorded a ROE of 2.9%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.03 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Qualstar:
2.9% = US$196k ÷ US$6.9m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. Shareholders' equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.
What Does Return On Equity Mean?
ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does Qualstar Have A Good Return On Equity?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for 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 Qualstar has a lower ROE than the average (8.8%) in the Tech industry classification.
Unfortunately, that's sub-optimal. We prefer it when the ROE of a company is above the industry average, but it's not the be-all and end-all if it is lower. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.
How Does Debt Impact 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 first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Combining Qualstar's Debt And Its 2.9% Return On Equity
One positive for shareholders is that Qualstar does not have any net debt! So while I find its ROE to be rather low, at least it didn't use debt. At the end of the day, when a company has zero debt, it is in a better position to take future growth opportunities.
The Bottom Line On ROE
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. Check the past profit growth by Qualstar by looking at this visualization of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.
Of course Qualstar 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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