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One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. We'll use ROE to examine Gilead Sciences, Inc. (NASDAQ:GILD), by way of a worked example.
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.
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 Gilead Sciences is:
23% = US$4.5b ÷ US$20b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2022).
The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.23 in profit.
Does Gilead Sciences Have A Good Return On Equity?
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. You can see in the graphic below that Gilead Sciences has an ROE that is fairly close to the average for the Biotechs industry (22%).
That isn't amazing, but it is respectable. Even if the ROE is respectable when compared to the industry, its worth checking if the firm's ROE is being aided by high debt levels. If so, this increases its exposure to financial risk. Our risks dashboardshould have the 3 risks we have identified for Gilead Sciences.
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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Gilead Sciences' Debt And Its 23% ROE
Gilead Sciences clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.32. Its ROE is pretty impressive but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
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. 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 you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.
Of course Gilead Sciences may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.
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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.