Is BAE Systems plc’s (LON:BA.) ROE Of 18.48% Sustainable?

BAE Systems plc (LSE:BA.) outperformed the aerospace and defense industry on the basis of its ROE – producing a higher 18.48% relative to the peer average of 11.34% over the past 12 months. However, whether this above-industry ROE is actually impressive depends on if it can be maintained. Sustainability can be gauged by a company’s financial leverage – the more debt it has, the higher ROE is pumped up in the short term, at the expense of long term interest payment burden. Let me show you what I mean by this. View our latest analysis for BAE Systems

Breaking down ROE — the mother of all ratios

Return on Equity (ROE) is a measure of BAE Systems’s profit relative to its shareholders’ equity. It essentially shows how much the company can generate in earnings given the amount of equity it has raised. Investors that are diversifying their portfolio based on industry may want to maximise their return in the Aerospace and Defense sector by choosing the highest returning stock. However, this can be deceiving as each company has varying costs of equity and debt levels, which could exaggeratedly push up ROE at the same time as accumulating high interest expense.

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 BAE Systems, which is 8.30%. This means BAE Systems returns enough to cover its own cost of equity, with a buffer of 10.18%. This sustainable practice implies that the company pays less 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

LSE:BA. Last Perf Mar 13th 18
LSE:BA. Last Perf Mar 13th 18

Essentially, profit margin shows how much money the company makes after paying for all its expenses. The other component, asset turnover, illustrates how much revenue BAE Systems can make from its 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. ROE can be inflated by disproportionately high levels of debt. This is also unsustainable due to the high interest cost that the company will also incur. Thus, we should look at BAE Systems’s debt-to-equity ratio to examine sustainability of its returns. The most recent ratio is 85.35%, which is sensible and indicates BAE Systems has not taken on too much leverage. Thus, we can conclude its above-average ROE is generated from its capacity to increase profit without a large debt burden.

LSE:BA. Historical Debt Mar 13th 18
LSE:BA. Historical Debt Mar 13th 18

Next Steps:

ROE is a simple yet informative ratio, illustrating the various components that each measure the quality of the overall stock. BAE Systems’s above-industry ROE is encouraging, and is also in excess of its cost of equity. Its high ROE is not likely to be driven by high debt. Therefore, investors may have more confidence in the sustainability of this level of returns going forward. Although ROE can be a useful metric, it is only a small part of diligent research.

For BAE Systems, I’ve compiled three relevant aspects you should further research: