Can Zebra Technologies Corporation’s (NASDAQ:ZBRA) ROE Continue To Surpass The Industry Average?

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. By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding Zebra Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ:ZBRA).

Our data shows Zebra Technologies has a return on equity of 16% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.16 in profit.

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How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Zebra Technologies:

16% = US$171m ÷ US$1.1b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2018.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders’ equity is a little more complicated. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does ROE Mean?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Zebra Technologies 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. As is clear from the image below, Zebra Technologies has a better ROE than the average (9.4%) in the electronic industry.

NasdaqGS:ZBRA Last Perf October 15th 18
NasdaqGS:ZBRA Last Perf October 15th 18

That is a good sign. I usually take a closer look when a company has a better ROE than industry peers. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares .

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Combining Zebra Technologies’s Debt And Its 16% Return On Equity

It’s worth noting the significant use of debt by Zebra Technologies, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.87. There’s no doubt the ROE is respectable, but it’s worth keeping in mind that metric is elevated by the use of debt. Debt does bring some extra risk, so it’s only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.

The Key Takeaway

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. 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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on 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.

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 editorial-team@simplywallst.com.