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Read This Before Judging Adams Resources & Energy, Inc.'s (NYSEMKT:AE) ROE

Simply Wall St

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). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Adams Resources & Energy, Inc. (NYSEMKT:AE).

Our data shows Adams Resources & Energy has a return on equity of 2.1% for the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.02.

Check out our latest analysis for Adams Resources & Energy

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Adams Resources & Energy:

2.1% = US$3.1m ÷ US$150m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders' equity is a little more complicated. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. 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 yearly profit. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does Adams Resources & Energy Have A Good ROE?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Adams Resources & Energy has a lower ROE than the average (13%) in the Oil and Gas industry.

AMEX:AE Past Revenue and Net Income, October 15th 2019

That certainly isn't ideal. It is better when the ROE is above industry average, but a low one doesn't necessarily mean the business is overpriced. Nonetheless, it could be useful to double-check if insiders have sold shares recently.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

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. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Adams Resources & Energy's Debt And Its 2.1% ROE

Adams Resources & Energy is free of net debt, which is a positive for shareholders. Without a doubt it has a fairly low ROE, but that isn't so bad when you consider it has no debt. After all, when a company has a strong balance sheet, it can often find ways to invest in growth, even if it takes some time.

In Summary

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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. 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. Check the past profit growth by Adams Resources & Energy by looking at this visualization of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Of course Adams Resources & Energy 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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.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. Thank you for reading.