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. We'll use ROE to examine 9F Inc. (NASDAQ:JFU), by way of a worked example.
Our data shows 9F has a return on equity of 9.5% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.10 in profit.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for 9F:
9.5% = CN¥877m ÷ CN¥9.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Signify?
ROE measures a company's profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The 'return' is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.
Does 9F 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 9F has a similar ROE to the average in the Interactive Media and Services industry classification (11%).
That isn't amazing, but it is respectable. ROE tells us about the quality of the business, but it does not give us much of an idea if the share price is cheap. If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
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 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.
9F's Debt And Its 9.5% ROE
One positive for shareholders is that 9F does not have any net debt! Even though I don't think its ROE is that great, I think it's very respectable when you consider it has no debt. After all, when a company has a strong balance sheet, it can often find ways to invest in growth, even if it takes some time.
The Key Takeaway
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of 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.
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.
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