A Closer Look At W.W. Grainger, Inc.’s (NYSE:GWW) Impressive ROE

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 W.W. Grainger, Inc. (NYSE:GWW).

Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. Put another way, it reveals the company’s success at turning shareholder investments into profits.

View our latest analysis for W.W. Grainger

How To Calculate Return On Equity?

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 W.W. Grainger is:

40% = US$818m ÷ US$2.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2020).

The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, the company generated $0.40 in profit.

Does W.W. Grainger Have A Good ROE?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, W.W. Grainger has a superior ROE than the average (11%) in the Trade Distributors industry.

NYSE:GWW Past Revenue and Net Income May 26th 2020
NYSE:GWW Past Revenue and Net Income May 26th 2020

That is a good sign. With that said, a high ROE doesn’t always indicate high profitability. Especially when a firm uses high levels of debt to finance its debt which may boost its ROE but the high leverage puts the company at risk. You can see the 3 risks we have identified for W.W. Grainger by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining W.W. Grainger’s Debt And Its 40% Return On Equity

W.W. Grainger clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.53. Its ROE is pretty impressive but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.

Summary

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.

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 you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: W.W. Grainger 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.

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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. Thank you for reading.