One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. We'll use ROE to examine The Greenbrier Companies, Inc. (NYSE:GBX), 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 short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.
How Do You 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 Greenbrier Companies is:
5.1% = US$73m ÷ US$1.4b (Based on the trailing twelve months to February 2022).
The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.05 in profit.
Does Greenbrier Companies Have A Good ROE?
By comparing a company's ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Greenbrier Companies has a lower ROE than the average (12%) in the Machinery industry.
That's not what we like to see. However, a low ROE is not always bad. If the company's debt levels are moderate to low, then there's still a chance that returns can be improved via the use of financial leverage. When a company has low ROE but high debt levels, we would be cautious as the risk involved is too high. You can see the 5 risks we have identified for Greenbrier Companies by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their 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 used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Combining Greenbrier Companies' Debt And Its 5.1% Return On Equity
Greenbrier Companies does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.05. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it's hard to get excited about this business at the moment. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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 you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course Greenbrier Companies may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.