South32 (ASX:S32) has had a rough month with its share price down 14%. It is possible that the markets have ignored the company's differing financials and decided to lean-in to the negative sentiment. Fundamentals usually dictate market outcomes so it makes sense to study the company's financials. Particularly, we will be paying attention to South32's ROE today.
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 Do You 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 South32 is:
11% = US$1.0b ÷ US$9.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2021).
The 'return' is the yearly profit. Another way to think of that is that for every A$1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn A$0.11 in profit.
Why Is ROE Important For Earnings Growth?
We have already established that ROE serves as an efficient profit-generating gauge for a company's future earnings. Depending on how much of these profits the company reinvests or "retains", and how effectively it does so, we are then able to assess a company’s earnings growth potential. Assuming all else is equal, companies that have both a higher return on equity and higher profit retention are usually the ones that have a higher growth rate when compared to companies that don't have the same features.
A Side By Side comparison of South32's Earnings Growth And 11% ROE
To start with, South32's ROE looks acceptable. Yet, the fact that the company's ROE is lower than the industry average of 16% does temper our expectations. Further research shows that South32's net income has shrunk at a rate of 28% over the last five years. Bear in mind, the company does have a high ROE. It is just that the industry ROE is higher. Hence there might be some other aspects that are causing earnings to shrink. For example, it could be that the company has a high payout ratio or the business has allocated capital poorly, for instance.
So, as a next step, we compared South32's performance against the industry and were disappointed to discover that while the company has been shrinking its earnings, the industry has been growing its earnings at a rate of 26% in the same period.
Earnings growth is a huge factor in stock valuation. It’s important for an investor to know whether the market has priced in the company's expected earnings growth (or decline). Doing so will help them establish if the stock's future looks promising or ominous. Has the market priced in the future outlook for S32? You can find out in our latest intrinsic value infographic research report.
Is South32 Efficiently Re-investing Its Profits?
South32 has a high three-year median payout ratio of 57% (that is, it is retaining 43% of its profits). This suggests that the company is paying most of its profits as dividends to its shareholders. This goes some way in explaining why its earnings have been shrinking. The business is only left with a small pool of capital to reinvest - A vicious cycle that doesn't benefit the company in the long-run. To know the 3 risks we have identified for South32 visit our risks dashboard for free.
In addition, South32 has been paying dividends over a period of six years suggesting that keeping up dividend payments is preferred by the management even though earnings have been in decline. Our latest analyst data shows that the future payout ratio of the company over the next three years is expected to be approximately 49%. Still, forecasts suggest that South32's future ROE will rise to 14% even though the the company's payout ratio is not expected to change by much.
On the whole, we feel that the performance shown by South32 can be open to many interpretations. Primarily, we are disappointed to see a lack of growth in earnings even in spite of a moderate ROE. Bear in mind, the company reinvests a small portion of its profits, which explains the lack of growth. That being so, the latest industry analyst forecasts show that analysts are forecasting a slight improvement in the company's future earnings growth. Sure enough, this could bring some relief to shareholders. To know more about the latest analysts predictions for the company, check out this visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
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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.