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 Ashtead Group plc (LON:AHT), by way of a worked example.
ROE or return on equity is a useful tool to assess how effectively a company can generate returns on the investment it received from its shareholders. Put another way, it reveals the company's success at turning shareholder investments into profits.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Ashtead Group is:
24% = US$1.2b ÷ US$4.9b (Based on the trailing twelve months to January 2022).
The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. Another way to think of that is that for every £1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn £0.24 in profit.
Does Ashtead Group 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Ashtead Group has a better ROE than the average (14%) in the Trade Distributors industry.
That's what we like to see. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. 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 . You can see the 2 risks we have identified for Ashtead Group by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. 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.
Ashtead Group's Debt And Its 24% ROE
Ashtead Group does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.02. There's no doubt the ROE is impressive, but it's worth keeping in mind that the metric could have been lower if the company were to reduce its debt. 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 a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Ashtead Group 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.
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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.