With A Return On Equity Of 14%, Has AutoNation, Inc.’s (NYSE:AN) Management Done Well?

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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. We’ll use ROE to examine AutoNation, Inc. (NYSE:AN), by way of a worked example.

Over the last twelve months AutoNation has recorded a ROE of 14%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.14.

View our latest analysis for AutoNation

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for AutoNation:

14% = US$395m ÷ US$2.8b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

It’s easy to understand the ‘net profit’ part of that equation, but ‘shareholders’ equity’ requires further explanation. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

What Does ROE Signify?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does AutoNation 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. You can see in the graphic below that AutoNation has an ROE that is fairly close to the average for the Specialty Retail industry (13%).

NYSE:AN Past Revenue and Net Income, June 30th 2019
NYSE:AN Past Revenue and Net Income, June 30th 2019

That’s not overly surprising. ROE doesn’t tell us if the share price is low, but it can inform us to the nature of the business. For those looking for a bargain, other factors may be more important. I will like AutoNation better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

AutoNation’s Debt And Its 14% ROE

AutoNation does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 2.32. while its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit to how much debt a company can use. Debt does bring extra risk, so it’s only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.

In Summary

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

If you would prefer check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

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.