One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. We’ll use ROE to examine United States Lime & Minerals, Inc. (NASDAQ:USLM), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows United States Lime & Minerals has a return on equity of 12% 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 $0.12.
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How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for United States Lime & Minerals:
12% = 27.037 ÷ US$219m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)
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 yearly profit. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does United States Lime & Minerals 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. If you look at the image below, you can see United States Lime & Minerals has a similar ROE to the average in the Basic Materials industry classification (11%).
That’s neither particularly good, nor bad. ROE can give us a view about company quality, but many investors also look to other factors, such as whether there are insiders buying shares. I will like United States Lime & Minerals 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 Return On Equity?
Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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 required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
United States Lime & Minerals’s Debt And Its 12% ROE
One positive for shareholders is that United States Lime & Minerals does not have any net debt! Its ROE already suggests it is a good business, but the fact it has achieved this — and doesn’t borrowings — makes it worthy of further consideration, in my view. At the end of the day, when a company has zero debt, it is in a better position to take future growth opportunities.
But It’s Just One Metric
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.
Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you’ll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. You can see how the company has grow in the past by looking at this FREE detailed graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.
But note: United States Lime & Minerals 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.
To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.
The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at email@example.com.