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Can Diageo plc (LON:DGE) Maintain Its Strong Returns?

Simply Wall St

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 Diageo plc (LON:DGE).

Diageo has a ROE of 33%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every £1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated £0.33 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Diageo

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

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

Or for Diageo:

33% = UK£3.3b ÷ UK£10b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders' equity is a little more complicated. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does ROE Signify?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does Diageo 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Diageo has a better ROE than the average (17%) in the Beverage industry.

LSE:DGE Past Revenue and Net Income, January 27th 2020

That is a good sign. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Combining Diageo's Debt And Its 33% Return On Equity

Diageo clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.24. There's no doubt its ROE is impressive, but the company appears to use its debt to boost that metric. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.

But It's Just One Metric

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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.

Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

But note: Diageo 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.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Thank you for reading.