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 International Business Machines Corporation (NYSE:IBM), by way of a worked example.
Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. In simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder’s equity.
How Is ROE Calculated?
Return on equity can be calculated by using the formula:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for International Business Machines is:
38% = US$7.9b ÷ US$21b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).
The ‘return’ is the profit over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders’ capital it has, the company made $0.38 in profit.
Does International Business Machines Have A Good Return On Equity?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, International Business Machines has a superior ROE than the average (15%) in the IT industry.
That is a good sign. With that said, a high ROE doesn’t always indicate high profitability. Aside from changes in net income, a high ROE can also be the outcome of high debt relative to equity, which indicates risk. You can see the 2 risks we have identified for International Business Machines by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. 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.
International Business Machines’ Debt And Its 38% ROE
We think International Business Machines uses a significant amount of debt to maximize its returns, as it has a significantly higher debt to equity ratio of 3.12. Its ROE is clearly quite good, but it seems to be boosted by the significant use of debt by the company.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. 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 ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. 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.
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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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