A Closer Look At Genesee & Wyoming Inc.’s (NYSE:GWR) Uninspiring ROE

Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand Genesee & Wyoming Inc. (NYSE:GWR).

Over the last twelve months Genesee & Wyoming has recorded a ROE of 7.0%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.070.

View our latest analysis for Genesee & Wyoming

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Genesee & Wyoming:

7.0% = US$244m ÷ US$3.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 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 Signify?

ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Genesee & Wyoming 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Genesee & Wyoming has a lower ROE than the average (12%) in the Transportation industry.

NYSE:GWR Past Revenue and Net Income, March 21st 2019
NYSE:GWR Past Revenue and Net Income, March 21st 2019

That’s not what we like to see. We prefer it when the ROE of a company is above the industry average, but it’s not the be-all and end-all if it is lower. Nonetheless, it might be wise 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 first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. 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.

Genesee & Wyoming’s Debt And Its 7.0% ROE

While Genesee & Wyoming does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.68, we wouldn’t say debt is excessive. I’m not impressed with its ROE, but the debt levels are not too high, indicating the business has decent prospects. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.

In Summary

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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.

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 check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: Genesee & Wyoming 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.

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.