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 WestRock Company (NYSE:WRK).
WestRock has a ROE of 16%, based on the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.16 in profit.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for WestRock:
16% = US$1.8b ÷ US$11.4b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 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 ROE Mean?
ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does WestRock 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. If you look at the image below, you can see WestRock has a similar ROE to the average in the packaging industry classification (16%).
That isn’t amazing, but it is respectable. Of course, this year’s ROE might be a product of last year’s decisions. So savvy investors often note how long the CEO has been in that position.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
WestRock’s Debt And Its 16% ROE
Although WestRock does use debt, its debt to equity ratio of 0.57 is still low. Its very respectable ROE, combined with only modest debt, suggests the business is in good shape. Careful use of debt to boost returns is often very good for shareholders. However, it could reduce the company’s ability to take advantage of future opportunities.
The Key Takeaway
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 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.
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 email@example.com.