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). We'll use ROE to examine Whirlpool Corporation (NYSE:WHR), by way of a worked example.
Over the last twelve months Whirlpool has recorded a ROE of 25%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.25.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Whirlpool:
25% = US$918m ÷ US$3.7b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)
Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders' equity is a little more complicated. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does ROE Signify?
Return on Equity measures a company's profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The 'return' is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does Whirlpool 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. Pleasingly, Whirlpool has a superior ROE than the average (12%) company in the Consumer Durables industry.
That's what I like to see. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Whirlpool's Debt And Its 25% Return On Equity
It's worth noting the significant use of debt by Whirlpool, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.88. There's no doubt its ROE is impressive, but the company appears to use its debt to boost that metric. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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 you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
But note: Whirlpool may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with high ROE and low debt.
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.