Declining Stock and Decent Financials: Is The Market Wrong About International Paper Company (NYSE:IP)?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 19, 2022
NYSE:IP
Source: Shutterstock

With its stock down 7.9% over the past three months, it is easy to disregard International Paper (NYSE:IP). But if you pay close attention, you might find that its key financial indicators look quite decent, which could mean that the stock could potentially rise in the long-term given how markets usually reward more resilient long-term fundamentals. Particularly, we will be paying attention to International Paper's ROE today.

Return on equity or ROE is a key measure used to assess how efficiently a company's management is utilizing the company's capital. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

View our latest analysis for International Paper

How Is ROE Calculated?

Return on equity can be calculated by using the formula:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for International Paper is:

19% = US$1.8b ÷ US$9.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2021).

The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.19 in profit.

What Has ROE Got To Do With Earnings Growth?

We have already established that ROE serves as an efficient profit-generating gauge for a company's future earnings. We now need to evaluate how much profit the company reinvests or "retains" for future growth which then gives us an idea about the growth potential of the company. Assuming everything else remains unchanged, the higher the ROE and profit retention, the higher the growth rate of a company compared to companies that don't necessarily bear these characteristics.

A Side By Side comparison of International Paper's Earnings Growth And 19% ROE

At first glance, International Paper seems to have a decent ROE. Further, the company's ROE is similar to the industry average of 17%. However, while International Paper has a pretty respectable ROE, its five year net income decline rate was 3.7% . Based on this, we feel that there might be other reasons which haven't been discussed so far in this article that could be hampering the company's growth. These include low earnings retention or poor allocation of capital.

That being said, we compared International Paper's performance with the industry and were concerned when we found that while the company has shrunk its earnings, the industry has grown its earnings at a rate of 2.9% in the same period.

past-earnings-growth
NYSE:IP Past Earnings Growth January 19th 2022

Earnings growth is a huge factor in stock valuation. What investors need to determine next is if the expected earnings growth, or the lack of it, is already built into the share price. By doing so, they will have an idea if the stock is headed into clear blue waters or if swampy waters await. Is IP fairly valued? This infographic on the company's intrinsic value has everything you need to know.

Is International Paper Using Its Retained Earnings Effectively?

International Paper has a high three-year median payout ratio of 65% (that is, it is retaining 35% of its profits). This suggests that the company is paying most of its profits as dividends to its shareholders. This goes some way in explaining why its earnings have been shrinking. The business is only left with a small pool of capital to reinvest - A vicious cycle that doesn't benefit the company in the long-run. To know the 3 risks we have identified for International Paper visit our risks dashboard for free.

Additionally, International Paper has paid dividends over a period of at least ten years, which means that the company's management is determined to pay dividends even if it means little to no earnings growth. Upon studying the latest analysts' consensus data, we found that the company's future payout ratio is expected to drop to 39% over the next three years. Regardless, the ROE is not expected to change much for the company despite the lower expected payout ratio.

Summary

On the whole, we do feel that International Paper has some positive attributes. Yet, the low earnings growth is a bit concerning, especially given that the company has a high rate of return. Investors could have benefitted from the high ROE, had the company been reinvesting more of its earnings. As discussed earlier, the company is retaining a small portion of its profits. In addition, latest analyst forecasts reveal that the company's earnings growth is expected be similar to its current growth rate. To know more about the latest analysts predictions for the company, check out this visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

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