Is AstraZeneca PLC’s (LON:AZN) 19% ROE Strong Compared To Its Industry?

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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. By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of AstraZeneca PLC (LON:AZN).

AstraZeneca has a ROE of 19%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each £1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made £0.19 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for AstraZeneca

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for AstraZeneca:

19% = US$2.4b ÷ US$12b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

What Does Return On Equity Mean?

ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. 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, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does AstraZeneca Have A Good Return On Equity?

By comparing a company’s ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see AstraZeneca has a similar ROE to the average in the Pharmaceuticals industry classification (17%).

LSE:AZN Past Revenue and Net Income, June 16th 2019
LSE:AZN Past Revenue and Net Income, June 16th 2019

That isn’t amazing, but it is respectable. ROE can give us a view about company quality, but many investors also look to other factors, such as whether there are insiders buying shares. If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Combining AstraZeneca’s Debt And Its 19% Return On Equity

AstraZeneca clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.74. There’s no doubt the ROE is respectable, but it’s worth keeping in mind that metric is elevated by the use of debt. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.

But It’s Just One Metric

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.