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Mitchell Services Limited (ASX:MSV) Delivered A Better ROE Than Its Industry

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Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). We'll use ROE to examine Mitchell Services Limited (ASX:MSV), by way of a worked example.

Mitchell Services has a ROE of 32%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every A$1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated A$0.32 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Mitchell Services

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Mitchell Services:

32% = AU$11m ÷ AU$33m (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

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 Return On Equity Signify?

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 yearly profit. 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 Mitchell Services 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 is clear from the image below, Mitchell Services has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Metals and Mining industry.

ASX:MSV Past Revenue and Net Income, April 1st 2019

That's clearly a positive. I usually take a closer look when a company has a better ROE than industry peers. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Mitchell Services's Debt And Its 32% ROE

Although Mitchell Services does use debt, its debt to equity ratio of 0.22 is still low. When I see a high ROE, fuelled by only modest debt, I suspect the business is high quality. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.

The Key Takeaway

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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. You can see how the company has grow in the past by looking at this FREE detailed graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

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.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.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. Thank you for reading.