on Return on Equity (ROE)
a stock analysis tutorial: use ROE
to pick the best stocks
investors would fare better by focusing on a firm’s profitability
rather earnings per share when researching a stock.
as you’ll soon see, one profitability measure, return on equity, can
help you analyze a firm’s earnings growth prospects. But first some
grabbing earnings per share figure, which is net income divided by the
number of shares outstanding, doesn’t tell you much by itself.
example that two companies both earned $1 million last year. However
company A did it on $10 million in sales compared to company B’s $100
million sales total. It’s clear that company A, with 10 percent return
on sales ($1 million divided by $10 million), is more profitable than
Company B with only a 1 percent return on sales.
Managers Prefer ROE
While comparing income to sales is a valid measure, many professional
money managers prefer return on equity (ROE), which is net income
divided by “shareholder’s equity.” You’ll see why in a minute.
The shareholder’s equity figure comes from the balance sheet and is a
firm’s assets less its liabilities. The more familiar term, book
value, is simply shareholder’s equity expressed on a per-share basis.
the earlier example, suppose Company A and Company B’s shareholder
equities totaled $20 million and $10 million, respectively. Then,
Company A’s earnings translate to a 5 percent ROE ($1 million divided
by $20 million) compared to 10 percent for Company B.
It turns out that a company cannot grow earnings faster than its ROE
without raising additional cash. That is, a firm with a 15 percent ROE
cannot grow earnings faster than 15 percent annually without borrowing
funds or selling more shares. Of course firms often do raise funds by
selling shares or borrowing, but at a cost. Servicing additional debt
cuts net income, and selling more shares shrinks earnings per share by
increasing the shares out total.
So ROE is, in
effect, a speed limit on a firm’s growth rate, and that’s why money
managers rely on it to gauge growth potential. In fact, many specify 15
percent as their minimum acceptable ROE when evaluating investment
Using ROE in this manner does have one drawback. Recall that
shareholder’s equity is assets less liabilities. In this context,
liabilities mean all monies owed by the firm including its long- and
short-term debt. Suppose that two firms have the same assets. If so, the
firm with the highest liabilities has the lowest shareholder’s equity.
Since ROE is net income divided by the equity figure, the higher-debt
firm shows the highest return on equity.
you should take debt levels into account when comparing different
firm’s return on equities.
You can use
Yahoo’s profile report (quote.yahoo.com)
to check any firm’s ROE and debt levels (debt/equity ratios). Get
there by getting a price quote and then selecting Profile.
When I checked using Multex Investor’s (www.multexinvestor.com)
program, I found 1,305 stocks with at least 15 percent ROE. However,
to minimize the debt factor, I screened out high-debt firms by adding a
maximum 0.5 total debt/equity ratio requirement. Doing that cut the
passing total down to 593 stocks.
experience, very small firms are risky business, so I eliminated the
smallest by specifying at least $50 million market capitalization and 12
months sales totaling at least $50 million. Adding those conditions
reduced the number of qualifying firms down to 416 candidates, giving
you a database of profitable stocks to which you can apply your usual
analysis. Here's a link
to the current results of that screen (you may have to click the
link again after login).
to Multex Investor, you can search for high ROE stocks using the
screening programs offered by MSN Money (moneycentral.msn.com)
and Quicken (www.quicken.com). Of
these, Quicken’s screener is the easiest to use, but the most
difficult to find. From Quicken’s homepage, select Brokerage, then
Quotes & Research, and then, Stock Ideas. From there select Stock
Search and then Full
Search. When I checked last week, specifying any revenue value
flummoxed the program and caused it to return no candidates. Hopefully,
that will be fixed by the time you read this.
on truly profitable companies doesn’t assure success. Stocks move up
or down for any number of reasons, especially in the short-term. Further
research is required to determine if a company’s historical
profitability and growth trends are likely to continue into the future.