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 FMC Corporation (NYSE:FMC).
Over the last twelve months FMC has recorded a ROE of 29%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.29 in profit.
How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for FMC:
29% = US$787m ÷ US$2.7b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.
What Does ROE Mean?
Return on Equity measures a company's profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). 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 equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does FMC Have A Good ROE?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, FMC has a higher ROE than the average (13%) in the Chemicals industry.
That is a good sign. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.
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 and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. 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.
FMC's Debt And Its 29% ROE
FMC does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.34. While the ROE is impressive, that metric has clearly benefited from the company's use of debt. 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.
But It's Just One Metric
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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.
Of course FMC 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.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.com. This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.
We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Thank you for reading.