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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand Telephone and Data Systems Inc (NYSE:TDS).
Over the last twelve months Telephone and Data Systems has recorded a ROE of 3.9%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.039 in profit.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Telephone and Data Systems:
3.9% = US$178m ÷ US$5.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2018.)
It’s easy to understand the ‘net profit’ part of that equation, but ‘shareholders’ equity’ requires further explanation. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does ROE Signify?
ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. 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 it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Telephone and Data Systems Have A Good ROE?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in 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 is clear from the image below, Telephone and Data Systems has a lower ROE than the average (11%) in the wireless telecom industry.
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. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.
The Importance Of Debt To 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 and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Telephone and Data Systems’s Debt And Its 3.9% ROE
While Telephone and Data Systems does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.47, we wouldn’t say debt is excessive. Its ROE is certainly on the low side, and since it already uses debt, we’re not too excited about the company. 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.
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. 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 ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.