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 Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN).
Over the last twelve months Amazon.com has recorded a ROE of 23%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.23.
How Do I Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Amazon.com:
23% = 8903 ÷ US$39b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 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. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.
What Does ROE Mean?
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 it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Amazon.com 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Amazon.com has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Online Retail industry.
That’s what I like to see. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, 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. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Combining Amazon.com’s Debt And Its 23% Return On Equity
It’s worth noting the significant use of debt by Amazon.com, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.21. Its ROE is quite good but, it would have probably been lower without 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 one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Amazon.com 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.
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.