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Should You Be Worried About Smart Metering Systems plc’s (LON:SMS) 6.6% Return On Equity?

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 Smart Metering Systems plc (LON:SMS), by way of a worked example.

Our data shows Smart Metering Systems has a return on equity of 6.6% for the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every £1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn £0.066.

View our latest analysis for Smart Metering Systems

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Smart Metering Systems:

6.6% = UK£15m ÷ UK£232m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 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. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does ROE Signify?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a a higher ROE. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does Smart Metering Systems Have A Good ROE?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As shown in the graphic below, Smart Metering Systems has a lower ROE than the average (11%) in the electronic industry classification.

AIM:SMS Last Perf October 18th 18

That’s not what we like to see. We’d prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Most companies need money — from somewhere — 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 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.

Smart Metering Systems’s Debt And Its 6.6% ROE

Smart Metering Systems has a debt to equity ratio of 0.65, which is far from excessive. Its ROE isn’t particularly impressive, but the debt levels are quite modest, so the business probably has some real potential. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.

The Bottom Line On ROE

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. 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. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course Smart Metering Systems 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.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.