Is Adobe Inc. (NASDAQ:ADBE) A High Quality Stock To Own?

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. We’ll use ROE to examine Adobe Inc. (NASDAQ:ADBE), by way of a worked example.

Over the last twelve months Adobe has recorded a ROE of 28%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.28.

See our latest analysis for Adobe

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Adobe:

28% = US$3.0b ÷ US$11b (Based on the trailing twelve months to November 2019.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. 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 ROE Signify?

ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the profit 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. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Adobe 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. 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, Adobe has a better ROE than the average (10%) in the Software industry.

NasdaqGS:ADBE Past Revenue and Net Income, February 26th 2020
NasdaqGS:ADBE Past Revenue and Net Income, February 26th 2020

That is a good sign. 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 Return On Equity?

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Adobe’s Debt And Its 28% ROE

Although Adobe does use debt, its debt to equity ratio of 0.39 is still low. When I see a high ROE, fuelled by only modest debt, I suspect the business is high quality. 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.

In 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

But note: Adobe 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.

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.

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