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 AbbVie Inc. (NYSE:ABBV).
Return on equity or ROE is a key measure used to assess how efficiently a company's management is utilizing the company's capital. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.
How To Calculate Return On Equity?
Return on equity 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 AbbVie is:
57% = US$7.6b ÷ US$13b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2023).
The 'return' is the yearly profit. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.57 in profit.
Does AbbVie Have A Good ROE?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, AbbVie has a higher ROE than the average (24%) in the Biotechs industry.
That is a good sign. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. 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. You can see the 5 risks we have identified for AbbVie by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
How Does Debt Impact 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 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.
AbbVie's Debt And Its 57% ROE
We think AbbVie uses a significant amount of debt to maximize its returns, as it has a significantly higher debt to equity ratio of 4.70. Its ROE is clearly quite good, but it seems to be boosted by the significant use of debt by the company.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.
But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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.
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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.
Join A Paid User Research Session
You’ll receive a US$30 Amazon Gift card for 1 hour of your time while helping us build better investing tools for the individual investors like yourself. Sign up here