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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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. (NYSE:MMC).
Over the last twelve months Marsh & McLennan Companies has recorded a ROE of 21%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.21.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Marsh & McLennan Companies:
21% = US$1.7b ÷ US$8.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)
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 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 Return On Equity Signify?
ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Marsh & McLennan Companies Have A Good Return On Equity?
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. Pleasingly, Marsh & McLennan Companies has a superior ROE than the average (8.7%) company in the Insurance industry.
That’s clearly a positive. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares .
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Combining Marsh & McLennan Companies’s Debt And Its 21% Return On Equity
Marsh & McLennan Companies clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.87. Its ROE is quite good but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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.
Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.
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 email@example.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.