Stock Analysis

Has Great-West Lifeco Inc.'s (TSE:GWO) Impressive Stock Performance Got Anything to Do With Its Fundamentals?

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TSX:GWO
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Great-West Lifeco (TSE:GWO) has had a great run on the share market with its stock up by a significant 11% over the last three months. We wonder if and what role the company's financials play in that price change as a company's long-term fundamentals usually dictate market outcomes. In this article, we decided to focus on Great-West Lifeco's ROE.

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. Simply put, it is used to assess the profitability of a company in relation to its equity capital.

Check out our latest analysis for Great-West Lifeco

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

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

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Great-West Lifeco is:

10% = CA$2.7b ÷ CA$27b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).

The 'return' is the amount earned after tax 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$0.10 in profit.

Why Is ROE Important For Earnings Growth?

So far, we've learned that ROE is a measure of a company's profitability. Based on how much of its profits the company chooses to reinvest or "retain", we are then able to evaluate a company's future ability to generate profits. 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.

Great-West Lifeco's Earnings Growth And 10% ROE

At first glance, Great-West Lifeco seems to have a decent ROE. Even when compared to the industry average of 9.7% the company's ROE looks quite decent. However, while Great-West Lifeco has a pretty respectable ROE, its five year net income decline rate was 2.1% . 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.

So, as a next step, we compared Great-West Lifeco's performance against the industry and were disappointed to discover that while the company has been shrinking its earnings, the industry has been growing its earnings at a rate of 3.3% in the same period.

past-earnings-growth
TSX:GWO Past Earnings Growth January 14th 2021

Earnings growth is an important metric to consider when valuing a stock. What investors need to determine next is if the expected earnings growth, or the lack of it, is already built into the share price. By doing so, they will have an idea if the stock is headed into clear blue waters or if swampy waters await. What is GWO worth today? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether GWO is currently mispriced by the market.

Is Great-West Lifeco Using Its Retained Earnings Effectively?

Great-West Lifeco's declining earnings is not surprising given how the company is spending most of its profits in paying dividends, judging by its three-year median payout ratio of 62% (or a retention ratio of 38%). With only a little being reinvested into the business, earnings growth would obviously be low or non-existent.

In addition, Great-West Lifeco has been paying dividends over a period of at least ten years suggesting that keeping up dividend payments is way more important to the management even if it comes at the cost of business growth. Our latest analyst data shows that the future payout ratio of the company over the next three years is expected to be approximately 63%. Accordingly, forecasts suggest that Great-West Lifeco's future ROE will be 11% which is again, similar to the current ROE.

Conclusion

Overall, we feel that Great-West Lifeco certainly does have some positive factors to consider. 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. Having said that, we studied the latest analyst forecasts, and found that analysts are expecting the company's earnings growth to improve slightly. Sure enough, this could bring some relief to shareholders. Are these analysts expectations based on the broad expectations for the industry, or on the company's fundamentals? Click here to be taken to our analyst's forecasts page for the company.

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