Is Ford Motor Company’s (NYSE:F) 17% Better Than Average?

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 Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F), by way of a worked example.

Over the last twelve months Ford Motor has recorded a ROE of 17%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.17 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Ford Motor

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Ford Motor:

17% = 6184 ÷ US$37b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does ROE Mean?

ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. 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 it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Ford Motor Have A Good Return On Equity?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. 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 Ford Motor has a similar ROE to the average in the Auto industry classification (18%).

NYSE:F Last Perf January 24th 19
NYSE:F Last Perf January 24th 19

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. For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Combining Ford Motor’s Debt And Its 17% Return On Equity

We think Ford Motor uses a lot of debt to boost returns, as it has a relatively high debt to equity ratio of 4.18. Its ROE is respectable, but it’s not so impressive once you consider all of the debt.

But It’s Just One Metric

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

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.

But note: Ford Motor may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with 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.