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 of Aon plc (NYSE:AON).
Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. In short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Aon is:
50% = US$2.2b ÷ US$4.4b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2021).
The 'return' is the income the business earned over the last year. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.50 in profit.
Does Aon Have A Good Return On Equity?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, Aon has a higher ROE than the average (12%) in the Insurance industry.
That's clearly a positive. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. Aside from changes in net income, a high ROE can also be the outcome of high debt relative to equity, which indicates risk.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Aon's Debt And Its 50% Return On Equity
Aon does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.67. Its ROE is pretty impressive but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.
Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Aon 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.
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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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