While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of ACS, Actividades de Construcción y Servicios, S.A. (BME:ACS).
Our data shows ACS Actividades de Construcción y Servicios has a return on equity of 25% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each €1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made €0.25 in profit.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for ACS Actividades de Construcción y Servicios:
25% = €991m ÷ €5.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. 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 Mean?
ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does ACS Actividades de Construcción y Servicios 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, ACS Actividades de Construcción y Servicios has a superior ROE than the average (14%) company in the Construction industry.
That's clearly a positive. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- 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. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
ACS Actividades de Construcción y Servicios's Debt And Its 25% ROE
ACS Actividades de Construcción y Servicios clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.48. While the ROE is impressive, that metric has clearly benefited from the company's use of debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
The Key Takeaway
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course ACS Actividades de Construcción y Servicios 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 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.