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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 GATX Corporation (NYSE:GATX).
Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. Simply put, it is used to assess the profitability of a company in relation to its equity capital.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for GATX is:
7.1% = US$140m ÷ US$2.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2021).
The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.07 in profit.
Does GATX 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. 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, GATX has a lower ROE than the average (10%) in the Trade Distributors industry classification.
That certainly isn't ideal. Although, we think that a lower ROE could still mean that a company has the opportunity to better its returns with the use of leverage, provided its existing debt levels are low. A high debt company having a low ROE is a different story altogether and a risky investment in our books. To know the 3 risks we have identified for GATX visit our risks dashboard for free.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
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 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.
Combining GATX's Debt And Its 7.1% Return On Equity
It appears that GATX makes extensive use of debt to improve its returns, because it has an alarmingly high debt to equity ratio of 3.26. The combination of a rather low ROE and high debt to equity is a negative, in our book.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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.
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.
But note: GATX 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.
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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