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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Canadian Pacific Railway Limited (TSE:CP).
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 other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.
How Is ROE Calculated?
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 Canadian Pacific Railway is:
30% = CA$2.3b ÷ CA$7.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).
The 'return' is the yearly profit. Another way to think of that is that for every CA$1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn CA$0.30 in profit.
Does Canadian Pacific Railway 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, Canadian Pacific Railway has a superior ROE than the average (15%) in the Transportation industry.
That is a good sign. However, bear in mind that a high ROE doesn’t necessarily indicate efficient profit generation. 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.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Canadian Pacific Railway's Debt And Its 30% ROE
It's worth noting the high use of debt by Canadian Pacific Railway, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.27. Its ROE is pretty impressive but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
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.
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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.
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. 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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