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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. We'll use ROE to examine Singapore Post Limited (SGX:S08), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Singapore Post has a return on equity of 1.6% for the last year. That means that for every SGD1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated SGD0.016 in profit.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Singapore Post:
1.6% = S$4.1m ÷ S$1.7b (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. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does ROE Signify?
Return on Equity measures a company's profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The 'return' is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.
Does Singapore Post Have A Good ROE?
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. If you look at the image below, you can see Singapore Post has a lower ROE than the average (11%) in the Logistics industry classification.
Unfortunately, that's sub-optimal. We'd prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. 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 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.
Singapore Post's Debt And Its 1.6% ROE
Singapore Post has a debt to equity ratio of 0.18, which is far from excessive. Its ROE is rather low, and it does use some debt, albeit not much. That's not great to see. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In my book 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.
But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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 email@example.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.