Analysis of the Return on Stockholders' Equity Ratio

by Matt Petryni

Investors who buy stock for the long term are usually most interested in an investment's profitability. Understanding how to analyze an investment's ability to deliver returns is essential, even for investors with professional financial planners. It's also important for investors to know about the ways in which their analysis may be limited.

Return on Stockholder's Equity

Return on stockholder's equity is calculated by dividing the total net income available to common stockholders by the total value of the stockholder's equity. Return on stockholder's equity -- or simply, return on equity (ROE) -- is a profitability ratio. In most cases, businesses will be managed with the intention of maximizing its return on stockholder's equity.

Analysis for Profitability

Return on stockholder's equity is an important ratio for investors to analyze. According to the NASDAQ stock exchange, "ROE gives us a glimpse into how efficiently company management is producing a return for the owners of the company -- based on the amount of equity in the company." ROE is often used as a measure to compare one company to another -- those with higher ROE are generally better managed. It also sometimes provides a helpful screening tool, used by investors to establish a minimum level of profitability they're interested in.

Analyzing for Earnings Growth

In addition to current profitability, ROE speaks to the company's future growth potential. Firms generally cannot grow their earnings in excess of their ROE without raising additional capital from new investors, or from raising debt. Because of this, "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," according to investment analyst Harry Domash. This feature allows ROE to serve as both an evaluation tool to score the effectiveness of an investment strategy, and as a forecasting tool for profit potential in the future.


Analyzing ROE has some limitations for investors. Firms often borrow money to help finance their operations. But because borrowing is more expensive than attracting investors, a heavily leveraged firm is generally a riskier investment than one that relies more on investment capital for financing. Despite this, it will have a higher ROE because ROE increases as stockholder's equity increases. This could make the firm appear more profitable than it actually is, so it's important to consider the company's liabilities when analyzing ROE. Additionally, ROE is often subject to inflation, which might further distort the long-term picture.

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