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 Schweitzer-Mauduit International, Inc. (NYSE:SWM), by way of a worked example.
Return on equity or ROE is a key measure used to assess how efficiently a company's management is utilizing the company's capital. In simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder's equity.
How To Calculate Return On Equity?
ROE 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 Schweitzer-Mauduit International is:
15% = US$92m ÷ US$607m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).
The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. So, this means that for every $1 of its shareholder's investments, the company generates a profit of $0.15.
Does Schweitzer-Mauduit International Have A Good ROE?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, Schweitzer-Mauduit International has a higher ROE than the average (5.8%) in the Forestry industry.
That is a good sign. However, bear in mind that a high ROE doesn’t necessarily indicate efficient profit generation. A higher proportion of debt in a company's capital structure may also result in a high ROE, where the high debt levels could be a huge risk .
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Schweitzer-Mauduit International's Debt And Its 15% ROE
It's worth noting the high use of debt by Schweitzer-Mauduit International, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.10. While its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit as to how much debt a company can use. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. 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 when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Schweitzer-Mauduit International 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.
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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