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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 Smith Micro Software, Inc. (NASDAQ:SMSI), by way of a worked example.
Smith Micro Software has a ROE of 18%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.18 in profit.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Smith Micro Software:
18% = US$5.2m ÷ US$30m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)
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. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Signify?
ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. 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 Smith Micro Software 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 you can see in the graphic below, Smith Micro Software has a higher ROE than the average (10.0%) in the Software industry.
That's what I like to see. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. 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 required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Smith Micro Software's Debt And Its 18% ROE
Smith Micro Software is free of net debt, which is a positive for shareholders. Its solid ROE indicates a good business, especially when you consider it is not using leverage. 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.
The Bottom Line On ROE
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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. 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. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.