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. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of International Business Machines Corporation (NYSE:IBM).
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. In short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.
How Is ROE Calculated?
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 International Business Machines is:
9.5% = US$2.1b ÷ US$22b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 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 $0.09 in profit.
Does International Business Machines Have A Good Return On Equity?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see International Business Machines has a lower ROE than the average (15%) in the IT industry classification.
Unfortunately, that's sub-optimal. 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. Our risks dashboard should have the 4 risks we have identified for International Business Machines.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
International Business Machines' Debt And Its 9.5% ROE
It's worth noting the high use of debt by International Business Machines, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 2.70. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.
Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.
Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. 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.
Of course International Business Machines 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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
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.
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