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 of Waters Corporation (NYSE:WAT).
Waters has a ROE of 61%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.61 in profit.
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How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Waters:
61% = US$591m ÷ US$968m (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)
Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders’ equity is a little more complicated. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Mean?
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. 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 Waters Have A Good Return On Equity?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Waters has a better ROE than the average (12%) in the Life Sciences industry.
That is a good sign. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At 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 debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Waters’s Debt And Its 61% Return On Equity
It’s worth noting the significant use of debt by Waters, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.28. 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.
But It’s Just One Metric
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 around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I’d generally prefer the one with higher ROE.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
But note: Waters may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with high ROE and low debt.
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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. Thank you for reading.