While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of International Business Machines Corporation (NYSE:IBM).

ROE or return on equity is a useful tool to assess how effectively a company can generate returns on the investment it received from its shareholders. Put another way, it reveals the company’s success at turning shareholder investments into profits.

See our latest analysis for International Business Machines

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for International Business Machines is:

27% = US$5.5b ÷ US$21b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2020).

The ‘return’ refers to a company’s earnings over the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn $0.27 in profit.

Does International Business Machines 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, International Business Machines has a better ROE than the average (15%) in the IT industry.

roe

roe

That is a good sign. 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 . You can see the 4 risks we have identified for International Business Machines by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Combining International Business Machines’ Debt And Its 27% Return On Equity

International Business Machines does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 2.95. While no doubt that its ROE is impressive, we would have been even more impressed had the company achieved this with lower debt. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

Conclusion

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. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: International Business Machines 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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