Did Airtel Africa Plc (LON:AAF) Use Debt To Deliver Its ROE Of 10%?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
April 11, 2021
LSE:AAF

Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Airtel Africa Plc (LON:AAF).

Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

View our latest analysis for Airtel Africa

How To 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 Airtel Africa is:

10% = US$338m ÷ US$3.3b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2020).

The 'return' is the income the business earned over the last year. That means that for every £1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated £0.10 in profit.

Does Airtel Africa Have A Good ROE?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. You can see in the graphic below that Airtel Africa has an ROE that is fairly close to the average for the Wireless Telecom industry (10%).

roe
LSE:AAF Return on Equity April 11th 2021

That's neither particularly good, nor bad. Even if the ROE is respectable when compared to the industry, its worth checking if the firm's ROE is being aided by high debt levels. If true, then it is more an indication of risk than the potential. You can see the 2 risks we have identified for Airtel Africa by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Airtel Africa's Debt And Its 10% ROE

Airtel Africa does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.05. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it's hard to get excited about this business at the moment. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

Summary

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

Of course Airtel Africa may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.

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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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