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 Sonic Healthcare Limited (ASX:SHL), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows Sonic Healthcare has a return on equity of 9.6% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each A$1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made A$0.096 in profit.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Sonic Healthcare:
9.6% = AU$470m ÷ AU$5.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 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. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.
What Does Return On Equity Mean?
ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does Sonic Healthcare Have A Good Return On Equity?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in 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 Sonic Healthcare has a similar ROE to the average in the Healthcare industry classification (9.9%).
That isn’t amazing, but it is respectable. ROE tells us about the quality of the business, but it does not give us much of an idea if the share price is cheap. I will like Sonic Healthcare better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Combining Sonic Healthcare’s Debt And Its 9.6% Return On Equity
Sonic Healthcare has a debt to equity ratio of 0.55, which is far from excessive. Its ROE isn’t particularly impressive, but the debt levels are quite modest, so the business probably has some real potential. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.
The Key Takeaway
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. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
Of course Sonic Healthcare may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.
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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.