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 Polmed SA (WSE:POM), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Polmed has a return on equity of 18% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each PLN1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made PLN0.18 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Polmed:
18% = zł9m ÷ zł49m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2018.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. 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. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Polmed 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. The image below shows that Polmed has an ROE that is roughly in line with the healthcare industry average (17%).
That’s neither particularly good, nor bad. Generally it will take a while for decisions made by leadership to impact the ROE. So savvy investors often note how long the CEO has been in that position.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. 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. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Combining Polmed’s Debt And Its 18% Return On Equity
While Polmed does have a tiny amount of debt, with debt to equity of just 0.073, we think the use of debt is very modest. The combination of modest debt and a very respectable ROE suggests this is a business worth watching. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.
The Bottom Line On ROE
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. 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. You can see how the company has grow in the past by looking at this FREE detailed graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.
If you would prefer check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.
To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.
The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.