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Read This Before Judging eHealth, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:EHTH) ROE

Simply Wall St

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 eHealth, Inc. (NASDAQ:EHTH).

Over the last twelve months eHealth has recorded a ROE of 1.4%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.014 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for eHealth

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for eHealth:

1.4% = US$6.2m ÷ US$443m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does ROE Signify?

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. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does eHealth 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As shown in the graphic below, eHealth has a lower ROE than the average (8.6%) in the Insurance industry classification.

NasdaqGS:EHTH Past Revenue and Net Income, September 21st 2019

Unfortunately, that's sub-optimal. We'd prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Nonetheless, it could be useful to double-check if insiders have sold shares recently.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

eHealth's Debt And Its 1.4% ROE

One positive for shareholders is that eHealth does not have any net debt! Without a doubt it has a fairly low ROE, but that isn't so bad when you consider it has no debt. At the end of the day, when a company has zero debt, it is in a better position to take future growth opportunities.

In Summary

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. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

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. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

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.