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Can St Barbara Limited's (ASX:SBM) ROE Continue To Surpass The Industry Average?

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Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of St Barbara Limited (ASX:SBM).

Our data shows St Barbara has a return on equity of 28% for the last year. That means that for every A$1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated A$0.28 in profit.

See our latest analysis for St Barbara

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for St Barbara:

28% = AU$204m ÷ AU$729m (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 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. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does St Barbara Have A Good Return On Equity?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in 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, St Barbara has a higher ROE than the average (14%) in the Metals and Mining industry.

ASX:SBM Past Revenue and Net Income, June 16th 2019

That is a good sign. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow 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 used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

St Barbara's Debt And Its 28% ROE

Shareholders will be pleased to learn that St Barbara has not one iota of net debt! Its high ROE indicates the business is high quality, but the fact that this was achieved without leverage is veritably impressive. 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.

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. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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 St Barbara may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.

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.