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 Airtel Africa Plc (LON:AAF), by way of a worked example.
ROE or return on equity is a useful tool to assess how effectively a company can generate returns on the investment it received from its shareholders. In simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder's equity.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Airtel Africa is:
9.8% = US$325m ÷ US$3.3b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).
The 'return' is the yearly profit. Another way to think of that is that for every £1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn £0.10 in profit.
Does Airtel Africa Have A Good ROE?
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. The image below shows that Airtel Africa has an ROE that is roughly in line with the Wireless Telecom industry average (11%).
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 a company takes on too much debt, it is at higher risk of defaulting on interest payments. To know the 4 risks we have identified for Airtel Africa visit our risks dashboard for free.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
Companies usually need to invest money 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Airtel Africa's Debt And Its 9.8% Return On Equity
Airtel Africa does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.00. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. 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.
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.
But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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 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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