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# Should We Be Cautious About MetLife, Inc.'s (NYSE:MET) ROE Of 9.4%?

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 MetLife, Inc. (NYSE:MET), 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. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

Check out our latest analysis for MetLife

## 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 MetLife is:

9.4% = US\$2.6b ÷ US\$27b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2022).

The 'return' is the amount earned after tax 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 \$0.09 in profit.

## Does MetLife 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 MetLife has a lower ROE than the average (12%) in the Insurance industry classification.

Unfortunately, that's sub-optimal. That being said, a low ROE is not always a bad thing, especially if the company has low leverage as this still leaves room for improvement if the company were to take on more debt. A company with high debt levels and low ROE is a combination we like to avoid given the risk involved. To know the 2 risks we have identified for MetLife visit our risks dashboard for free.

## Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

## Combining MetLife's Debt And Its 9.4% Return On Equity

It appears that MetLife makes extensive use of debt to improve its returns, because it has an alarmingly high debt to equity ratio of 3.70. We consider it to be a negative sign when a company has a rather low ROE despite a rather high debt to equity.

## Conclusion

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: MetLife 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.

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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