Can SThree plc (LON:STHR) Maintain Its Strong Returns?

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 SThree plc (LON:STHR), by way of a worked example.

Over the last twelve months SThree has recorded a ROE of 34%. That means that for every £1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated £0.34 in profit.

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How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for SThree:

34% = 26.437 ÷ UK£77m (Based on the trailing twelve months to May 2018.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders’ equity is a little more complicated. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does ROE Signify?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does SThree 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, SThree has a superior ROE than the average (23%) company in the Professional Services industry.

LSE:STHR Last Perf January 12th 19
LSE:STHR Last Perf January 12th 19

That is a good sign. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining SThree’s Debt And Its 34% Return On Equity

SThree has a debt to equity ratio of 0.49, which is far from excessive. When I see a high ROE, fuelled by only modest debt, I suspect the business is high quality. 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.

But It’s Just One Metric

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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.

If you would prefer check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.

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.