Should You Be Excited About Ligand Pharmaceuticals Incorporated’s (NASDAQ:LGND) 26% Return On Equity?

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 Ligand Pharmaceuticals Incorporated (NASDAQ:LGND).

Over the last twelve months Ligand Pharmaceuticals has recorded a ROE of 26%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.26 in profit.

View our latest analysis for Ligand Pharmaceuticals

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Ligand Pharmaceuticals:

26% = US$143m ÷ US$561m (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does ROE Signify?

ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the profit over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does Ligand Pharmaceuticals Have A Good ROE?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Ligand Pharmaceuticals has a better ROE than the average (20%) in the Biotechs industry.

NasdaqGM:LGND Past Revenue and Net Income, March 13th 2019
NasdaqGM:LGND Past Revenue and Net Income, March 13th 2019

That’s clearly a positive. I usually take a closer look when a company has a better ROE than industry peers. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

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 first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Ligand Pharmaceuticals’s Debt And Its 26% ROE

Ligand Pharmaceuticals does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.13. I think the ROE is impressive, but it would have been assisted by 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.

In Summary

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. 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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course Ligand Pharmaceuticals may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.

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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.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.