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 American Tower Corporation (NYSE:AMT).
Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. In short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.
How Is ROE Calculated?
Return on equity 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 American Tower is:
23% = US$2.9b ÷ US$12b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2022).
The 'return' is the yearly profit. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.23 in profit.
Does American Tower Have A Good Return On Equity?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, American Tower has a superior ROE than the average (6.9%) in the REITs industry.
That's clearly a positive. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. Especially when a firm uses high levels of debt to finance its debt which may boost its ROE but the high leverage puts the company at risk. Our risks dashboardshould have the 4 risks we have identified for American Tower.
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
American Tower's Debt And Its 23% ROE
It appears that American Tower makes extensive use of debt to improve its returns, because it has an alarmingly high debt to equity ratio of 3.11. Its ROE is clearly quite good, but it seems to be boosted by the significant use of debt by the company.
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. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.
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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
But note: American Tower 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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