One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand PolyOne Corporation (NYSE:POL).
PolyOne has a ROE of 24%, based on the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.24.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for PolyOne:
24% = US$141m ÷ US$592m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 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 Mean?
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. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. 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 PolyOne 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, PolyOne has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Chemicals industry.
That’s clearly a positive. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.
How Does Debt Impact 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 first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Combining PolyOne’s Debt And Its 24% Return On Equity
PolyOne does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 2.42. There’s no doubt its ROE is impressive, but the company appears to use its debt to boost that metric. Debt does bring extra risk, so it’s only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
The Bottom Line On ROE
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. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course PolyOne may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have 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 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.