Did Amerisafe Inc (NASDAQ:AMSF) Use Debt To Deliver Its ROE Of 12%?

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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand Amerisafe Inc (NASDAQ:AMSF).

Over the last twelve months Amerisafe has recorded a ROE of 12%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.12 in profit.

See our latest analysis for Amerisafe

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Amerisafe:

12% = US$53m ÷ US$459m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

It’s easy to understand the ‘net profit’ part of that equation, but ‘shareholders’ equity’ requires further explanation. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

What Does Return On Equity 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 yearly profit. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Amerisafe 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. You can see in the graphic below that Amerisafe has an ROE that is fairly close to the average for the insurance industry (10%).

NasdaqGS:AMSF Last Perf November 16th 18
NasdaqGS:AMSF Last Perf November 16th 18

That’s neither particularly good, nor bad. Generally it will take a while for decisions made by leadership to impact the ROE. So it makes sense to check how long the board and CEO have been in place.

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 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.

Amerisafe’s Debt And Its 12% ROE

One positive for shareholders is that Amerisafe does not have any net debt! Its ROE already suggests it is a good business, but the fact it has achieved this — and doesn’t borrowings — makes it worthy of further consideration, in my view. After all, with cash on the balance sheet, a company has a lot more optionality in good times and bad.

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. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

Of course Amerisafe 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.