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 High Liner Foods Incorporated (TSE:HLF).
ROE or return on equity is a useful tool to assess how effectively a company can generate returns on the investment it received from its shareholders. Put another way, it reveals the company's success at turning shareholder investments into profits.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for High Liner Foods is:
6.6% = US$18m ÷ US$281m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).
The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every CA$1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn CA$0.07 in profit.
Does High Liner Foods Have A Good ROE?
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. As shown in the graphic below, High Liner Foods has a lower ROE than the average (9.0%) in the Food industry classification.
Unfortunately, that's sub-optimal. However, a low ROE is not always bad. If the company's debt levels are moderate to low, then there's still a chance that returns can be improved via the use of financial leverage. A company with high debt levels and low ROE is a combination we like to avoid given the risk involved. You can see the 2 risks we have identified for High Liner Foods by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
High Liner Foods' Debt And Its 6.6% ROE
It's worth noting the high use of debt by High Liner Foods, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.13. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: High Liner Foods 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.
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