A Closer Look At Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc.’s (NYSE:BFAM) Impressive ROE

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One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc. (NYSE:BFAM).

Bright Horizons Family Solutions has a ROE of 19%, based on the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.19.

View our latest analysis for Bright Horizons Family Solutions

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Bright Horizons Family Solutions:

19% = US$162m ÷ US$837m (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 all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does ROE Mean?

Return on Equity measures a company’s profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). 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, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Bright Horizons Family Solutions 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Bright Horizons Family Solutions has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Consumer Services industry.

NYSE:BFAM Past Revenue and Net Income, July 16th 2019
NYSE:BFAM Past Revenue and Net Income, July 16th 2019

That is a good sign. I usually take a closer look when a company has a better ROE than industry peers. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Combining Bright Horizons Family Solutions’s Debt And Its 19% Return On Equity

Bright Horizons Family Solutions does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.31. There’s no doubt the ROE is respectable, but it’s worth keeping in mind that metric is elevated by the use of debt. 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.

But It’s Just One Metric

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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 check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: Bright Horizons Family Solutions 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.

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.