Is Aeterna Zentaris Inc’s (TSE:AEZS) ROE Of 15.24% Sustainable?

This analysis is intended to introduce important early concepts to people who are starting to invest and want to begin learning the link between company’s fundamentals and stock market performance.

Aeterna Zentaris Inc (TSE:AEZS) performed in-line with its biotechnology industry on the basis of its ROE – producing a return of15.24% relative to the peer average of 14.58% over the past 12 months. But what is more interesting is whether AEZS can sustain this level of return. This can be measured by looking at the company’s financial leverage. With more debt, AEZS can invest even more and earn more money, thus pushing up its returns. However, ROE only measures returns against equity, not debt. This can be distorted, so let’s take a look at it further.

Check out our latest analysis for Aeterna Zentaris

Peeling the layers of ROE – trisecting a company’s profitability

Return on Equity (ROE) weighs Aeterna Zentaris’s profit against the level of its shareholders’ equity. For example, if the company invests CA$1 in the form of equity, it will generate CA$0.15 in earnings from this. If investors diversify their portfolio by industry, they may want to maximise their return in the Biotechnology sector by investing in the highest returning stock. However, this can be misleading as each firm has different costs of equity and debt levels i.e. the more debt Aeterna Zentaris has, the higher ROE is pumped up in the short term, at the expense of long term interest payment burden.

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity

ROE is assessed against cost of equity, which is measured using the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) – but let’s not dive into the details of that today. For now, let’s just look at the cost of equity number for Aeterna Zentaris, which is 16.96%. This means Aeterna Zentaris’s returns actually do not cover its own cost of equity, with a discrepancy of -1.72%. This isn’t sustainable as it implies, very simply, that the company pays more for its capital than what it generates in return. ROE can be split up into three useful ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:

Dupont Formula

ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage

ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)

ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity

TSX:AEZS Last Perf August 10th 18
TSX:AEZS Last Perf August 10th 18

Basically, profit margin measures how much of revenue trickles down into earnings which illustrates how efficient the business is with its cost management. Asset turnover reveals how much revenue can be generated from Aeterna Zentaris’s asset base. Finally, financial leverage will be our main focus today. It shows how much of assets are funded by equity and can show how sustainable the company’s capital structure is. We can determine if Aeterna Zentaris’s ROE is inflated by borrowing high levels of debt. Generally, a balanced capital structure means its returns will be sustainable over the long run. We can examine this by looking at Aeterna Zentaris’s debt-to-equity ratio. Currently, Aeterna Zentaris has no debt which means its returns are driven purely by equity capital. Therefore, the level of financial leverage has no impact on ROE, and the ratio is a representative measure of the efficiency of all its capital employed firm-wide.

TSX:AEZS Historical Debt August 10th 18
TSX:AEZS Historical Debt August 10th 18

Next Steps:

ROE is a simple yet informative ratio, illustrating the various components that each measure the quality of the overall stock. Aeterna Zentaris’s ROE is impressive relative to the industry average, though its returns were not strong enough to cover its own cost of equity. ROE is not likely to be inflated by excessive debt funding, giving shareholders more conviction in the sustainability of industry-beating returns. ROE is a helpful signal, but it is definitely not sufficient on its own to make an investment decision.

For Aeterna Zentaris, I’ve put together three important factors you should further research:

  1. Financial Health: Does it have a healthy balance sheet? Take a look at our free balance sheet analysis with six simple checks on key factors like leverage and risk.
  2. Valuation: What is Aeterna Zentaris worth today? Is the stock undervalued, even when its growth outlook is factored into its intrinsic value? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether Aeterna Zentaris is currently mispriced by the market.
  3. Other High-Growth Alternatives : Are there other high-growth stocks you could be holding instead of Aeterna Zentaris? Explore our interactive list of stocks with large growth potential to get an idea of what else is out there you may be missing!

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.com.