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 The E.W. Scripps Company (NASDAQ:SSP), by way of a worked example.
Over the last twelve months E.W. Scripps has recorded a ROE of 0.8%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.01.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for E.W. Scripps:
0.8% = US$7.0m ÷ US$894m (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 the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Signify?
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, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does E.W. Scripps Have A Good Return On Equity?
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. If you look at the image below, you can see E.W. Scripps has a lower ROE than the average (13%) in the Media 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. Nonetheless, it could be useful to double-check if insiders have sold shares recently.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Most companies need money — from somewhere — 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 E.W. Scripps’s Debt And Its 0.8% Return On Equity
It’s worth noting the significant use of debt by E.W. Scripps, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 2.17. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it’s hard to get excited about this business at the moment. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.
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. 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. 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 take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
But note: E.W. Scripps 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 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.
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