The a2 Milk Company Limited (NZSE:ATM) Delivered A Better ROE Than Its Industry

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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). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand The a2 Milk Company Limited (NZSE:ATM).

a2 Milk has a ROE of 35%, based on the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every NZ$1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn NZ$0.35.

View our latest analysis for a2 Milk

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for a2 Milk:

35% = 195.684 ÷ NZ$556m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2018.)

It’s easy to understand the ‘net profit’ part of that equation, but ‘shareholders’ equity’ requires further explanation. 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 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. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does a2 Milk 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. As is clear from the image below, a2 Milk has a better ROE than the average (9.4%) in the Food industry.

NZSE:ATM Last Perf February 10th 19
NZSE:ATM Last Perf February 10th 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.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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 debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining a2 Milk’s Debt And Its 35% Return On Equity

Shareholders will be pleased to learn that a2 Milk has not one iota of net debt! Its impressive ROE suggests it is a high quality business, but it’s even better to have achieved that without leverage. After all, with cash on the balance sheet, a company has a lot more optionality in good times and bad.

In Summary

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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course a2 Milk 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.

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.