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 Sylvamo Corporation (NYSE:SLVM), 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 short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.

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

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Sylvamo is:

28% = US$253m ÷ US$901m (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2023).

The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders’ capital it has, the company made $0.28 in profit.

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 is clear from the image below, Sylvamo has a better ROE than the average (13%) in the Forestry industry.

That is a good sign. With that said, a high ROE doesn’t always indicate high profitability. Especially when a firm uses high levels of debt to finance its debt which may boost its ROE but the high leverage puts the company at risk. To know the 4 risks we have identified for Sylvamo visit our risks dashboard for free.

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. 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 used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

It’s worth noting the high use of debt by Sylvamo, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.05. Its ROE is pretty impressive but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. 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 a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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 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.

If you would prefer check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.

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