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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 MicroStrategy Incorporated (NASDAQ:MSTR), by way of a worked example.
Over the last twelve months MicroStrategy has recorded a ROE of 2.7%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.027.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for MicroStrategy:
2.7% = US$13m ÷ US$478m (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 earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.
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, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does MicroStrategy 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. 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 MicroStrategy has a lower ROE than the average (9.7%) in the Software industry classification.
That certainly isn’t ideal. It is better when the ROE is above industry average, but a low one doesn’t necessarily mean the business is overpriced. Still, shareholders might want 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 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 MicroStrategy’s Debt And Its 2.7% Return On Equity
MicroStrategy is free of net debt, which is a positive for shareholders. Without a doubt it has a fairly low ROE, but that isn’t so bad when you consider it has no debt. After all, when a company has a strong balance sheet, it can often find ways to invest in growth, even if it takes some time.
The Bottom Line On ROE
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book 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.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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: MicroStrategy 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.
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.