Woolworths Group Limited's (ASX:WOW) Stock Has Shown Weakness Lately But Financial Prospects Look Decent: Is The Market Wrong?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
March 17, 2021
ASX:WOW

With its stock down 4.8% over the past month, it is easy to disregard Woolworths Group (ASX:WOW). However, the company's fundamentals look pretty decent, and long-term financials are usually aligned with future market price movements. Particularly, we will be paying attention to Woolworths Group's ROE today.

Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. Put another way, it reveals the company's success at turning shareholder investments into profits.

View our latest analysis for Woolworths Group

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

ROE can be calculated by using the formula:

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

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Woolworths Group is:

15% = AU$1.5b ÷ AU$9.7b (Based on the trailing twelve months to January 2021).

The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each A$1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made A$0.15 in profit.

Why Is ROE Important For Earnings Growth?

Thus far, we have learned that ROE measures how efficiently a company is generating its profits. Depending on how much of these profits the company reinvests or "retains", and how effectively it does so, we are then able to assess a company’s earnings growth potential. Generally speaking, other things being equal, firms with a high return on equity and profit retention, have a higher growth rate than firms that don’t share these attributes.

A Side By Side comparison of Woolworths Group's Earnings Growth And 15% ROE

To start with, Woolworths Group's ROE looks acceptable. Even when compared to the industry average of 15% the company's ROE looks quite decent. As you might expect, the 7.3% net income decline reported by Woolworths Group is a bit of a surprise. We reckon that there could be some other factors at play here that are preventing the company's growth. For example, it could be that the company has a high payout ratio or the business has allocated capital poorly, for instance.

With the industry earnings declining at a rate of 7.3% in the same period, we deduce that both the company and the industry are shrinking at the same rate.

past-earnings-growth
ASX:WOW Past Earnings Growth March 18th 2021

Earnings growth is a huge factor in stock valuation. It’s important for an investor to know whether the market has priced in the company's expected earnings growth (or decline). This then helps them determine if the stock is placed for a bright or bleak future. Has the market priced in the future outlook for WOW? You can find out in our latest intrinsic value infographic research report.

Is Woolworths Group Using Its Retained Earnings Effectively?

Woolworths Group has a high three-year median payout ratio of 89% (that is, it is retaining 11% of its profits). This suggests that the company is paying most of its profits as dividends to its shareholders. This goes some way in explaining why its earnings have been shrinking. With only very little left to reinvest into the business, growth in earnings is far from likely. To know the 3 risks we have identified for Woolworths Group visit our risks dashboard for free.

Moreover, Woolworths Group has been paying dividends for at least ten years or more suggesting that management must have perceived that the shareholders prefer dividends over earnings growth. Our latest analyst data shows that the future payout ratio of the company over the next three years is expected to be approximately 77%. However, Woolworths Group's ROE is predicted to rise to 20% despite there being no anticipated change in its payout ratio.

Conclusion

On the whole, we do feel that Woolworths Group has some positive attributes. However, while the company does have a high ROE, its earnings growth number is quite disappointing. This can be blamed on the fact that it reinvests only a small portion of its profits and pays out the rest as dividends. With that said, we studied the latest analyst forecasts and found that while the company has shrunk its earnings in the past, analysts expect its earnings to grow in the future. To know more about the company's future earnings growth forecasts take a look at this free report on analyst forecasts for the company to find out more.

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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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