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. We'll use ROE to examine International Paper Company (NYSE:IP), by way of a worked example.
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 simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder's equity.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for International Paper is:
7.0% = US$495m ÷ US$7.1b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).
The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.07 in profit.
Does International Paper 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. As is clear from the image below, International Paper has a lower ROE than the average (16%) in the Packaging industry.
That's not what we like to see. That being said, a low ROE is not always a bad thing, especially if the company has low leverage as this still leaves room for improvement if the company were to take on more debt. A company with high debt levels and low ROE is a combination we like to avoid given the risk involved. You can see the 6 risks we have identified for International Paper by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
International Paper's Debt And Its 7.0% ROE
International Paper clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.21. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. 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.
But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on 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.
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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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