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With An ROE Of 5.9%, Has China Telecom Corporation Limited’s (HKG:728) Management Done Well?

Andrew Carroll

The content of this article will benefit those of you who are starting to educate yourself about investing in the stock market and want to start learning about core concepts of fundamental analysis on practical examples from today’s market.

China Telecom Corporation Limited (HKG:728) generated a below-average return on equity of 5.9% in the past 12 months, while its industry returned 9.9%. 728’s results could indicate a relatively inefficient operation to its peers, and while this may be the case, it is important to understand what ROE is made up of and how it should be interpreted. Knowing these components could change your view on 728’s performance. Metrics such as financial leverage can impact the level of ROE which in turn can affect the sustainability of 728’s returns. Let me show you what I mean by this.

View our latest analysis for China Telecom

Peeling the layers of ROE – trisecting a company’s profitability

Firstly, Return on Equity, or ROE, is simply the percentage of last years’ earning against the book value of shareholders’ equity. It essentially shows how much the company can generate in earnings given the amount of equity it has raised. In most cases, a higher ROE is preferred; however, there are many other factors we must consider prior to making any investment decisions.

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity

ROE is assessed against cost of equity, which is measured using the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) – but let’s not dive into the details of that today. For now, let’s just look at the cost of equity number for China Telecom, which is 10.0%. Since China Telecom’s return does not cover its cost, with a difference of -4.1%, this means its current use of equity is not efficient and not sustainable. Very simply, China Telecom pays more for its capital than what it generates in return. ROE can be dissected into three distinct ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:

Dupont Formula

ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage

ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)

ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity

SEHK:728 Last Perf August 28th 18

The first component is profit margin, which measures how much of sales is retained after the company pays for all its expenses. The other component, asset turnover, illustrates how much revenue China Telecom can make from its asset base. And finally, financial leverage is simply how much of assets are funded by equity, which exhibits how sustainable the company’s capital structure is. Since ROE can be inflated by excessive debt, we need to examine China Telecom’s debt-to-equity level. The debt-to-equity ratio currently stands at a low 24.8%, meaning China Telecom still has headroom to borrow debt to increase profits.

SEHK:728 Historical Debt August 28th 18

Next Steps:

While ROE is a relatively simple calculation, it can be broken down into different ratios, each telling a different story about the strengths and weaknesses of a company. China Telecom exhibits a weak ROE against its peers, as well as insufficient levels to cover its own cost of equity this year. However, ROE is not likely to be inflated by excessive debt funding, giving shareholders more conviction in the sustainability of returns, which has headroom to increase further. ROE is a helpful signal, but it is definitely not sufficient on its own to make an investment decision.

For China Telecom, I’ve compiled three fundamental factors you should further examine:

  1. Financial Health: Does it have a healthy balance sheet? Take a look at our free balance sheet analysis with six simple checks on key factors like leverage and risk.
  2. Valuation: What is China Telecom worth today? Is the stock undervalued, even when its growth outlook is factored into its intrinsic value? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether China Telecom is currently mispriced by the market.
  3. Other High-Growth Alternatives : Are there other high-growth stocks you could be holding instead of China Telecom? Explore our interactive list of stocks with large growth potential to get an idea of what else is out there you may be missing!

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.com.