I am writing today to help inform people who are new to the stock market and want to learn about Return on Equity using a real-life example.
Marcus & Millichap Inc (NYSE:MMI) delivered an ROE of 17.87% over the past 12 months, which is an impressive feat relative to its industry average of 10.85% during the same period. Though, the impressiveness of MMI’s ROE is contingent on whether this industry-beating level can be sustained. This can be measured by looking at the company’s financial leverage. With more debt, MMI can invest even more and earn more money, thus pushing up its returns. However, ROE only measures returns against equity, not debt. This can be distorted, so let’s take a look at it further.
Breaking down Return on Equity
Firstly, Return on Equity, or ROE, is simply the percentage of last years’ earning against the book value of shareholders’ equity. It essentially shows how much the company can generate in earnings given the amount of equity it has raised. If investors diversify their portfolio by industry, they may want to maximise their return in the Real Estate Services sector by investing in the highest returning stock. However, this can be deceiving as each company has varying costs of equity and debt levels, which could exaggeratedly push up ROE at the same time as accumulating high interest expense.
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity
ROE is assessed against cost of equity, which is measured using the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) – but let’s not dive into the details of that today. For now, let’s just look at the cost of equity number for Marcus & Millichap, which is 8.59%. Since Marcus & Millichap’s return covers its cost in excess of 9.28%, its use of equity capital is efficient and likely to be sustainable. Simply put, Marcus & Millichap pays less for its capital than what it generates in return. ROE can be broken down into three different ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:
ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage
ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)
ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity
The first component is profit margin, which measures how much of sales is retained after the company pays for all its expenses. The other component, asset turnover, illustrates how much revenue Marcus & Millichap can make from its asset base. The most interesting ratio, and reflective of sustainability of its ROE, is financial leverage. ROE can be inflated by disproportionately high levels of debt. This is also unsustainable due to the high interest cost that the company will also incur. Thus, we should look at Marcus & Millichap’s debt-to-equity ratio to examine sustainability of its returns. The most recent ratio is 2.13%, which is sensible and indicates Marcus & Millichap has not taken on too much leverage. Thus, we can conclude its above-average ROE is generated from its capacity to increase profit without a large debt burden.
While ROE is a relatively simple calculation, it can be broken down into different ratios, each telling a different story about the strengths and weaknesses of a company. Marcus & Millichap’s above-industry ROE is encouraging, and is also in excess of its cost of equity. ROE is not likely to be inflated by excessive debt funding, giving shareholders more conviction in the sustainability of high returns. ROE is a helpful signal, but it is definitely not sufficient on its own to make an investment decision.
For Marcus & Millichap, there are three pertinent factors you should look at:
- Financial Health: Does it have a healthy balance sheet? Take a look at our free balance sheet analysis with six simple checks on key factors like leverage and risk.
- Valuation: What is Marcus & Millichap worth today? Is the stock undervalued, even when its growth outlook is factored into its intrinsic value? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether Marcus & Millichap is currently mispriced by the market.
- Other High-Growth Alternatives : Are there other high-growth stocks you could be holding instead of Marcus & Millichap? Explore our interactive list of stocks with large growth potential to get an idea of what else is out there you may be missing!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.