Why Cyanotech Corporation (NASDAQ:CYAN) May Not Be As Efficient As Its Industry

Cyanotech Corporation (NASDAQ:CYAN) generated a below-average return on equity of 9.48% in the past 12 months, while its industry returned 15.77%. An investor may attribute an inferior ROE to a relatively inefficient performance, and whilst this can often be the case, knowing the nuts and bolts of the ROE calculation may change that perspective and give you a deeper insight into CYAN’s past performance. Today I will look at how components such as financial leverage can influence ROE which may impact the sustainability of CYAN’s returns. Check out our latest analysis for Cyanotech

Peeling the layers of ROE – trisecting a company’s profitability

Firstly, Return on Equity, or ROE, is simply the percentage of last years’ earning against the book value of shareholders’ equity. An ROE of 9.48% implies $0.09 returned on every $1 invested, so the higher the return, the better. Investors that are diversifying their portfolio based on industry may want to maximise their return in the Personal Products sector by choosing the highest returning stock. However, this can be misleading as each firm has different costs of equity and debt levels i.e. the more debt Cyanotech has, the higher ROE is pumped up in the short term, at the expense of long term interest payment burden.

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity

ROE is assessed against cost of equity, which is measured using the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) – but let’s not dive into the details of that today. For now, let’s just look at the cost of equity number for Cyanotech, which is 8.49%. Cyanotech’s ROE exceeds its cost by 0.99%, which is a big tick. Some of its peers with higher ROE may face a cost which exceeds returns, which is unsustainable and far less desirable than Cyanotech’s case of positive discrepancy. ROE can be split up into three useful ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:

Dupont Formula

ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage

ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)

ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity

NasdaqCM:CYAN Last Perf Apr 4th 18
NasdaqCM:CYAN Last Perf Apr 4th 18

Basically, profit margin measures how much of revenue trickles down into earnings which illustrates how efficient the business is with its cost management. Asset turnover shows how much revenue Cyanotech can generate with its current asset base. And finally, financial leverage is simply how much of assets are funded by equity, which exhibits how sustainable the company’s capital structure is. ROE can be inflated by disproportionately high levels of debt. This is also unsustainable due to the high interest cost that the company will also incur. Thus, we should look at Cyanotech’s debt-to-equity ratio to examine sustainability of its returns. The ratio currently stands at a sensible 37.22%, meaning Cyanotech has not taken on excessive debt to drive its returns. The company is able to produce profit growth without a huge debt burden and still has headroom to grow returns to industry average.

NasdaqCM:CYAN Historical Debt Apr 4th 18
NasdaqCM:CYAN Historical Debt Apr 4th 18

Next Steps:

ROE is a simple yet informative ratio, illustrating the various components that each measure the quality of the overall stock. While Cyanotech exhibits a weak ROE against its peers, its returns are sufficient enough to cover its cost of equity. Its appropriate level of leverage means investors can be more confident in the sustainability of Cyanotech’s return with a possible increase should the company decide to increase its debt levels. Although ROE can be a useful metric, it is only a small part of diligent research.

For Cyanotech, I’ve put together three important factors you should look at: