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Return on equity

Return on equity (ROE) is a measure of how well a company used reinvested earnings to generate additional earnings. It is viewed as one of the most important financial ratios. It measures a firm's efficiency at generating profits from every dollar of shareholders' equity , and shows how much profit a company earned in comparison to the total amount of shareholder equity found on the balance sheet. ROE is equal to a fiscal year's net income (after preferred stock dividends but before common stock dividends) divided by total equity (excluding preferred shares), expressed as a percentage.

ROE is calculated as:

      ROE=Net income/Sharesholder's equity

Net income is for the full fiscal year (before dividends paid to common stock holders but after dividends to preferred stock.) Shareholder's equity does not include preferred shares.

There are several variations on the formula that investors may use:

1. Investors wishing to see the return on common equity may modify the formula above by subtracting preferred dividends from net income and subtracting preferred equity from shareholders' equity, giving the following:

      return on common equity (ROCE) = net income - preferred dividends / common equity.

2. Return on equity may also be calculated by dividing net income by average shareholders' equity. Average shareholders' equity is calculated by adding the shareholders' equity at the beginning of a period to the shareholders' equity at period's end and dividing the result by two.

3. Investors may also calculate the change in ROE for a period by first using the shareholders' equity figure from the beginning of a period as a denominator to determine the beginning ROE. Then, the end-of-period shareholders' equity can be used as the denominator to determine the ending ROE. Calculating both beginning and ending ROEs allows an investor to determine the change in profitability over the period.

Return on equity is particularly important because it can help you cut through the garbage spieled out by most CEO’s in their annual reports about, “achieving record earnings”. Warren Buffett pointed out years ago that achieving higher earnings each year is an easy task. Why? Each year, a successful company generates profits. If management did nothing more than retain those earnings and stick them a simple passbook savings account yielding 4% annually, they would be able to report “record earnings” because of the interest they earned. Were the shareholders better off? Not at all; they would have enjoyed heftier returns had the earnings been paid out. This makes obvious that investors cannot look at rising per-share earnings each year as a sign of success. The return on equity figure takes into account the retained earnings from previous years, and tells investors how effectively their capital is being reinvested. Thus, it serves as a far better gauge of management’s fiscal adeptness than the annual earnings per share.

Investors usually look for companies with returns on equity that are high and growing.A business that has a high return on equity is more likely to be one that is capable of generating cash internally. For the most part, the higher a company’s return on equity compared to its industry, the better. This should be obvious to even the less-than-astute investor If you owned a business that had a net worth [shareholder’s equity] of $100 million dollars and it made $5 million in profit, it would be earning 5% on your equity [$5 / $100 = .05, or 5%]. The higher you can get the “return” on your equity, in this case 5%, the better.

But not all high-ROE companies make good investments. Some industries have high ROE because they require no assets, such as consulting firms. Other industries require large infrastructure builds before they generate a penny of profit, such as oil refiners. You cannot conclude that consulting firms are better investments than refiners just because of their ROE. Generally, capital-intensive businesses have high barriers toentry, which limit competition. But high-ROE firms with small asset bases have lower barriers to entry. Thus, such firms face more business risk because competitors can replicate their success without having to obtain much outside funding. As with many financial ratios, ROE is best used to compare companies in the same industry.

High ROE yields no immediate benefit. Since stock prices are most strongly determined by earnings per share (EPS), you will be paying twice as much (in Price/Book terms) for a 20% ROE company as for a 10% ROE company. The benefit comes from the earnings reinvested in the company at a high ROE rate, which in turn gives the company a high growth rate. ROE is presumably irrelevant if the earnings are not reinvested.

The sustainable growth model shows us that when firms pay dividends, earnings growth lowers. If the dividend payout is 20%, the growth expected will be only 80% of the ROE rate. The growth rate will be lower if the earnings are used to buy back shares. If the shares are bought at a multiple of book value (say 3 times book), the incremental earnings returns will be only 'that fraction' of ROE (ROE/3).

New investments may not be as profitable as the existing business. Ask "what is the company doing with its earnings?" Remember that ROE is calculated from the company's perspective, on the company as a whole. Since much financial manipulation is accomplished with new share issues and buyback, always recalculate on a 'per share' basis, i.e. earnings per share/book value per share.

ROE encompasses the three pillars of corporate management -- profitability, asset management, and financial leverage. By seeing how well the executive team balances these components, investors can not only get an excellent sense of whether they will receive a decent return on equity but can also assess management's ability to get the job done.The DuPont formula, also known as the strategic profit model, is a common way to break down ROE into three important components. Essentially, ROE will equal net margin multiplied by asset turnover multiplied by financial leverage.

      ROE=(Net income/Sales) * (Sales/total assets)*(Total assets/average stockholders equity)

Splitting return on equity into three parts makes it easier to understand changes in ROE over time. For example, if the net margin increases, every sale brings in more money, resulting in a higher overall ROE. Similarly, if the asset turnover increases, the firm generates more sales for every dollar of assets owned, again resulting in a higher overall ROE. Finally, increasing financial leverage means that the firm uses more debt financing relative to equity financing. Interest payments to creditors are tax deductible, but dividend payments to shareholders are not. Thus, a higher proportion of debt in the firm's capital structure leads to higher ROE. Financial leverage benefits diminish as the risk of defaulting on interest payments increases. So if the firm takes on too much debt, the cost of debt rises as creditors demand a higher risk premium, and ROE decreases. Return on assets is one of the elements used in financial analysis using the Du Pont Identity. and be impacted by inventory directly. Increased debt will make a positive contribution to a firm's ROE only if the firms ROA exceeds the interest rate on the debt.


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