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. We'll use ROE to examine Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. (NYSE:CLF), by way of a worked example.
Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
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 Cleveland-Cliffs is:
22% = US$926m ÷ US$4.3b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2021).
The 'return' is the income the business earned over the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.22 in profit.
Does Cleveland-Cliffs Have A Good Return On Equity?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Cleveland-Cliffs has a better ROE than the average (17%) in the Metals and Mining industry.
That's what we like to see. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. A higher proportion of debt in a company's capital structure may also result in a high ROE, where the high debt levels could be a huge risk . Our risks dashboardshould have the 6 risks we have identified for Cleveland-Cliffs.
Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE
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 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. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.
Combining Cleveland-Cliffs' Debt And Its 22% Return On Equity
It's worth noting the high use of debt by Cleveland-Cliffs, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.11. While its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit as to how much debt a company can use. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. 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.
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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: Cleveland-Cliffs may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with 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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