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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand AmerisourceBergen Corporation (NYSE:ABC).
Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. In simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder's equity.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for AmerisourceBergen is:
40% = US$1.6b ÷ US$4.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).
The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. So, this means that for every $1 of its shareholder's investments, the company generates a profit of $0.40.
Does AmerisourceBergen 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. As is clear from the image below, AmerisourceBergen has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Healthcare industry.
That's clearly a positive. However, bear in mind that a high ROE doesn’t necessarily indicate efficient profit generation. A higher proportion of debt in a company's capital structure may also result in a high ROE, where the high debt levels could be a huge risk . You can see the 2 risks we have identified for AmerisourceBergen by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
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 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 AmerisourceBergen's Debt And Its 40% Return On Equity
AmerisourceBergen does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.04. There's no doubt the ROE is impressive, but it's worth keeping in mind that the metric could have been lower if the company were to reduce its debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. 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.
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 you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course AmerisourceBergen 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.
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.
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