Why Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (NYSE:MMC) Looks Like A Quality Company

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 Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (NYSE:MMC).

Our data shows Marsh & McLennan Companies has a return on equity of 20% for the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.20.

View our latest analysis for Marsh & McLennan Companies

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

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

Or for Marsh & McLennan Companies:

20% = US$1.5b ÷ US$7.8b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders’ equity is a little more complicated. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its 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 amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. 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 Marsh & McLennan Companies Have A Good ROE?

By comparing a company’s ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, Marsh & McLennan Companies has a superior ROE than the average (9.0%) company in the Insurance industry.

NYSE:MMC Past Revenue and Net Income, January 20th 2020
NYSE:MMC Past Revenue and Net Income, January 20th 2020

That is a good sign. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Combining Marsh & McLennan Companies’s Debt And Its 20% Return On Equity

Marsh & McLennan Companies clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.61. while its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit to how much debt a company can use. 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.

But It’s Just One Metric

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 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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: Marsh & McLennan Companies 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.

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. Thank you for reading.