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 Advance Auto Parts, Inc. (NYSE:AAP).
Our data shows Advance Auto Parts has a return on equity of 12% for the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.12 in profit.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Advance Auto Parts:
12% = US$437m ÷ US$3.7b (Based on the trailing twelve months to July 2019.)
It’s easy to understand the ‘net profit’ part of that equation, but ‘shareholders’ equity’ requires further explanation. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does ROE Mean?
ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Advance Auto Parts 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. If you look at the image below, you can see Advance Auto Parts has a similar ROE to the average in the Specialty Retail industry classification (13%).
That’s neither particularly good, nor bad. ROE tells us about the quality of the business, but it does not give us much of an idea if the share price is cheap.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Combining Advance Auto Parts’s Debt And Its 12% Return On Equity
While Advance Auto Parts does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.20, we wouldn’t say debt is excessive. The fact that it achieved a fairly good ROE with only modest debt suggests the business might be worth putting on your watchlist. Careful use of debt to boost returns is often very good for shareholders. However, it could reduce the company’s ability to take advantage of future opportunities.
The Key Takeaway
Return on equity is one way we can compare the 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.