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Should You Be Worried About The Chefs' Warehouse, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:CHEF) 6.8% Return On Equity?

Simply Wall St

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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 The Chefs' Warehouse, Inc. (NASDAQ:CHEF), by way of a worked example.

Our data shows Chefs' Warehouse has a return on equity of 6.8% for the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.068.

Check out our latest analysis for Chefs' Warehouse

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Chefs' Warehouse:

6.8% = US$21m ÷ US$308m (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. 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 Mean?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does Chefs' Warehouse 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 shown in the graphic below, Chefs' Warehouse has a lower ROE than the average (12%) in the Consumer Retailing industry classification.

NasdaqGS:CHEF Past Revenue and Net Income, July 12th 2019
NasdaqGS:CHEF Past Revenue and Net Income, July 12th 2019

That certainly isn't ideal. We prefer it when the ROE of a company is above the industry average, but it's not the be-all and end-all if it is lower. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.

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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Chefs' Warehouse's Debt And Its 6.8% ROE

While Chefs' Warehouse does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.92, we wouldn't say debt is excessive. Its ROE isn't particularly impressive, but the debt levels are quite modest, so the business probably has some real potential. Careful use of debt to boost returns is often very good for shareholders. However, it could reduce the company's ability to take advantage of future opportunities.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. 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.

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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.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.