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Why Federal Signal Corporation’s (NYSE:FSS) ROE Of 10.18% Does Not Tell The Whole Story

Bernadette Hatcher

Federal Signal Corporation’s (NYSE:FSS) most recent return on equity was a substandard 10.18% relative to its industry performance of 10.99% over the past year. An investor may attribute an inferior ROE to a relatively inefficient performance, and whilst this can often be the case, knowing the nuts and bolts of the ROE calculation may change that perspective and give you a deeper insight into FSS’s past performance. Metrics such as financial leverage can impact the level of ROE which in turn can affect the sustainability of FSS’s returns. Let me show you what I mean by this. View our latest analysis for Federal Signal

What you must know about ROE

Return on Equity (ROE) is a measure of Federal Signal’s profit relative to its shareholders’ equity. It essentially shows how much the company can generate in earnings given the amount of equity it has raised. Generally speaking, a higher ROE is preferred; however, there are other factors we must also consider before making any conclusions.

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity

ROE is measured against cost of equity in order to determine the efficiency of Federal Signal’s equity capital deployed. Its cost of equity is 9.71%. Some of Federal Signal’s peers may have a higher ROE but its cost of equity could exceed this return, leading to an unsustainable negative discrepancy i.e. the company spends more than it earns. This is not the case for Federal Signal which is reassuring. ROE can be broken down into three different ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:

Dupont Formula

ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage

ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)

ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity

NYSE:FSS Last Perf Feb 28th 18

Essentially, profit margin shows how much money the company makes after paying for all its expenses. Asset turnover reveals how much revenue can be generated from Federal Signal’s asset base. The most interesting ratio, and reflective of sustainability of its ROE, is financial leverage. Since financial leverage can artificially inflate ROE, we need to look at how much debt Federal Signal currently has. Currently the debt-to-equity ratio stands at a reasonable 66.58%, which means its ROE is driven by its ability to grow its profit without a significant debt burden.

NYSE:FSS Historical Debt Feb 28th 18

Next Steps:

ROE is a simple yet informative ratio, illustrating the various components that each measure the quality of the overall stock. While Federal Signal exhibits a weak ROE against its peers, its returns are sufficient enough to cover its cost of equity. Its appropriate level of leverage means investors can be more confident in the sustainability of Federal Signal’s return with a possible increase should the company decide to increase its debt levels. Although ROE can be a useful metric, it is only a small part of diligent research.

For Federal Signal, I’ve put together three fundamental factors you should further research:

  1. Financial Health: Does it have a healthy balance sheet? Take a look at our free balance sheet analysis with six simple checks on key factors like leverage and risk.
  2. Valuation: What is Federal Signal worth today? Is the stock undervalued, even when its growth outlook is factored into its intrinsic value? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether Federal Signal is currently mispriced by the market.
  3. Other High-Growth Alternatives : Are there other high-growth stocks you could be holding instead of Federal Signal? Explore our interactive list of stocks with large growth potential to get an idea of what else is out there you may be missing!


To help readers see pass the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned.