Why Lexington Realty Trust’s (NYSE:LXP) ROE Of 1.7% Does Not Tell The Whole Story

Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand Lexington Realty Trust (NYSE:LXP).

Our data shows Lexington Realty Trust has a return on equity of 1.7% for the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.017 in profit.

View our latest analysis for Lexington Realty Trust

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Lexington Realty Trust:

1.7% = US$14m ÷ US$1.2b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 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 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 a higher ROE. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Lexington Realty Trust 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see Lexington Realty Trust has a lower ROE than the average (6.5%) in the reits industry classification.

NYSE:LXP Last Perf October 15th 18
NYSE:LXP Last Perf October 15th 18

That certainly isn’t ideal. It is better when the ROE is above industry average, but a low one doesn’t necessarily mean the business is overpriced. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Most companies need money — from somewhere — to grow their 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. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Combining Lexington Realty Trust’s Debt And Its 1.7% Return On Equity

Lexington Realty Trust clearly uses a significant amount debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.72. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it’s hard to get excited about this business at the moment. Debt does bring some extra risk, so it’s only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of 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 editorial-team@simplywallst.com.