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 Sterling Construction Company, Inc. (NASDAQ:STRL).
Return on equity or ROE is a key measure used to assess how efficiently a company's management is utilizing the company's capital. 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 Sterling Construction Company is:
22% = US$52m ÷ US$241m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).
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 $0.22 in profit.
Does Sterling Construction Company Have A Good ROE?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, Sterling Construction Company has a superior ROE than the average (10%) in the Construction industry.
That's clearly a positive. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. Aside from changes in net income, a high ROE can also be the outcome of high debt relative to equity, which indicates risk. Our risks dashboardshould have the 3 risks we have identified for Sterling Construction Company.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their 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 required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Combining Sterling Construction Company's Debt And Its 22% Return On Equity
Sterling Construction Company does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.79. While its ROE is pretty respectable, the amount of debt the company is carrying currently is not ideal. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.
Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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 Sterling Construction Company 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.
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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