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Should U.S. Concrete, Inc. (NASDAQ:USCR) Focus On Improving This Fundamental Metric?

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Simply Wall St
·4 min read
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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 U.S. Concrete, Inc. (NASDAQ:USCR), by way of a worked example.

Return on equity or ROE is a key measure used to assess how efficiently a company's management is utilizing the company's capital. In short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.

View our latest analysis for U.S. Concrete

How To Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for U.S. Concrete is:

5.8% = US$22m ÷ US$375m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).

The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.06 in profit.

Does U.S. Concrete 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As shown in the graphic below, U.S. Concrete has a lower ROE than the average (11%) in the Basic Materials industry classification.

roe
roe

That certainly isn't ideal. Although, we think that a lower ROE could still mean that a company has the opportunity to better its returns with the use of leverage, provided its existing debt levels are low. A high debt company having a low ROE is a different story altogether and a risky investment in our books. You can see the 2 risks we have identified for U.S. Concrete by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

Companies usually need to invest money 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.

Combining U.S. Concrete's Debt And Its 5.8% Return On Equity

U.S. Concrete clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.80. The combination of a rather low ROE and significant use of debt is not particularly appealing. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

Conclusion

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, 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. 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.

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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team@simplywallst.com.