Stock Analysis

Is Southwest Airlines Co.'s (NYSE:LUV) Recent Performance Underpinned By Weak Financials?

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NYSE:LUV
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Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) has had a rough three months with its share price down 20%. We decided to study the company's financials to determine if the downtrend will continue as the long-term performance of a company usually dictates market outcomes. Particularly, we will be paying attention to Southwest Airlines' ROE today.

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. Put another way, it reveals the company's success at turning shareholder investments into profits.

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How To Calculate Return On Equity?

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 Southwest Airlines is:

4.5% = US$497m ÷ US$11b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2023).

The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn $0.04 in profit.

Why Is ROE Important For Earnings Growth?

Thus far, we have learned that ROE measures how efficiently a company is generating its profits. We now need to evaluate how much profit the company reinvests or "retains" for future growth which then gives us an idea about the growth potential of the company. Generally speaking, other things being equal, firms with a high return on equity and profit retention, have a higher growth rate than firms that don’t share these attributes.

Southwest Airlines' Earnings Growth And 4.5% ROE

At first glance, Southwest Airlines' ROE doesn't look very promising. We then compared the company's ROE to the broader industry and were disappointed to see that the ROE is lower than the industry average of 14%. Given the circumstances, the significant decline in net income by 30% seen by Southwest Airlines over the last five years is not surprising. However, there could also be other factors causing the earnings to decline. For example, it is possible that the business has allocated capital poorly or that the company has a very high payout ratio.

As a next step, we compared Southwest Airlines' performance with the industry and found thatSouthwest Airlines' performance is depressing even when compared with the industry, which has shrunk its earnings at a rate of 8.7% in the same period, which is a slower than the company.

past-earnings-growth
NYSE:LUV Past Earnings Growth November 30th 2023

Earnings growth is an important metric to consider when valuing a stock. It’s important for an investor to know whether the market has priced in the company's expected earnings growth (or decline). By doing so, they will have an idea if the stock is headed into clear blue waters or if swampy waters await. One good indicator of expected earnings growth is the P/E ratio which determines the price the market is willing to pay for a stock based on its earnings prospects. So, you may want to check if Southwest Airlines is trading on a high P/E or a low P/E, relative to its industry.

Is Southwest Airlines Efficiently Re-investing Its Profits?

Southwest Airlines has a high LTM (or last twelve month) payout ratio of 86% (that is, it is retaining 14% of its profits). This suggests that the company is paying most of its profits as dividends to its shareholders. This goes some way in explaining why its earnings have been shrinking. With only a little being reinvested into the business, earnings growth would obviously be low or non-existent. Our risks dashboard should have the 3 risks we have identified for Southwest Airlines.

Moreover, Southwest Airlines has been paying dividends for at least ten years or more suggesting that management must have perceived that the shareholders prefer dividends over earnings growth. Existing analyst estimates suggest that the company's future payout ratio is expected to drop to 31% over the next three years. Accordingly, the expected drop in the payout ratio explains the expected increase in the company's ROE to 13%, over the same period.

Summary

In total, we would have a hard think before deciding on any investment action concerning Southwest Airlines. Because the company is not reinvesting much into the business, and given the low ROE, it's not surprising to see the lack or absence of growth in its earnings. Having said that, looking at current analyst estimates, we found that the company's earnings growth rate is expected to see a huge improvement. To know more about the latest analysts predictions for the company, check out this visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

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