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 Cosan Limited (NYSE:CZZ).
Over the last twelve months Cosan has recorded a ROE of 17%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.17.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Cosan:
17% = R$1.2b ÷ R$16b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)
It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. Shareholders' equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.
What Does Return On Equity Signify?
ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Cosan 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, Cosan has a higher ROE than the average (13%) in the Oil and Gas industry.
That's what I like to see. I usually take a closer look when a company has a better ROE than industry peers. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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 required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Cosan's Debt And Its 17% Return On Equity
It's worth noting the significant use of debt by Cosan, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.57. There's no doubt the ROE is respectable, but it's worth keeping in mind that metric is elevated by the use of 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 useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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 when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Cosan 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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.