Why The Coca-Cola Company’s (NYSE:KO) ROE Of 11% Does Not Tell The Whole Story

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. By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO).

Coca-Cola has a ROE of 11%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.11 in profit.

See our latest analysis for Coca-Cola

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Coca-Cola:

11% = US$2.2b ÷ US$20.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2018.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders’ equity is a little more complicated. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

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 Coca-Cola 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 Coca-Cola has a lower ROE than the average (19%) in the beverage industry classification.

NYSE:KO Last Perf October 11th 18
NYSE:KO Last Perf October 11th 18

Unfortunately, that’s sub-optimal. We’d prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining Coca-Cola’s Debt And Its 11% Return On Equity

It’s worth noting the significant use of debt by Coca-Cola, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 2.32. while its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit to how much debt a company can use. 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. 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. 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.

If you would prefer check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity 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.