Should You Be Worried About PFSweb, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:PFSW) 3.6% Return On Equity?

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 PFSweb, Inc. (NASDAQ:PFSW), by way of a worked example.

PFSweb has a ROE of 3.6%, based on the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.036.

See our latest analysis for PFSweb

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for PFSweb:

3.6% = US$1.5m ÷ US$42m (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. 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, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does PFSweb 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 shown in the graphic below, PFSweb has a lower ROE than the average (13%) in the IT industry classification.

NasdaqCM:PFSW Past Revenue and Net Income, March 13th 2019
NasdaqCM:PFSW Past Revenue and Net Income, March 13th 2019

That’s not what we like to see. It is better when the ROE is above industry average, but a low one doesn’t necessarily mean the business is overpriced. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow 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 debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Combining PFSweb’s Debt And Its 3.6% Return On Equity

PFSweb clearly uses a significant amount debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.02. The combination of a rather low ROE and significant use of debt is not particularly appealing. 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 useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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 ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course PFSweb may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.

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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.