Return on equity (ROE) is a closely watched number among knowledgeable investors. It is a strong measure of how well a company's management creates value for its shareholders. The number can be misleading, however, as it is vulnerable to measures that increase its value while also making the stock more risky. Without a way of breaking down ROE components, investors could be duped into believing a company is a good investment when it's not. Read on to learn how to use DuPont analysis to break apart ROE and get a much better understanding about where movements in ROE are coming from.
ROE = net income / shareholder's equity
If this number goes up, it is generally a great sign for the company as it is showing that the rate of return on the shareholders' equity is rising. The problem is that this number can also rise simply when the company takes on more debt, thereby decreasing shareholder equity. This would increase the company's leverage, which could be a good thing, but it will also make the stock more risky.
To avoid mistaken assumptions, a more in-depth knowledge of ROE is needed. In the 1920s the DuPont corporation created an analysis method that fills this need by breaking down ROE into a more complex equation. DuPont analysis shows the causes of shifts in the number.
There are two variants of DuPont analysis: the original three-step equation, and an extended five-step equation. The three-step equation breaks up ROE into three very important components:
|ROE = (net profit margin) * (asset turnover) * (equity multiplier)|
These components include:
- Operating efficiency - as measured by profit margin.
- Asset use efficiency - as measured by total asset turnover.
- Financial leverage - as measured by the equity multiplier.
| The Three-Step DuPont Calculation
Taking the ROE equation: ROE = net income / shareholder's equity and multiplying the equation by (sales / sales), we get:
We now have ROE broken into two components: the first is net profit margin, and the second is the equity turnover ratio. Now by multiplying in (assets / assets), we end up with the three-step DuPont identity:
This equation for ROE breaks it into three widely used and studied components:
We have ROE broken down into net profit margin (how much profit the company gets out of its revenues), asset turnover (how effectively the company makes use of its assets) and equity multiplier (a measure of how much the company is leveraged). The usefulness should now be clearer.
If a company's ROE goes up due to an increase in the net profit margin or asset turnover, this is a very positive sign for the company. However, if the equity multiplier is the source of the rise, and the company was already appropriately leveraged, this is simply making things more risky. If the company is getting over-leveraged, the stock might deserve more of a discount despite the rise in ROE. The company could be under-leveraged as well. In this case it could be positive and show that the company is managing itself better.
Even if a company's ROE has remained unchanged, examination in this way can be very helpful. Suppose a company releases numbers and ROE is unchanged. Examination with DuPont analysis could show that both net profit margin and asset turnover decreased, two negative signs for the company, and the only reason ROE stayed the same was a large increase in leverage. No matter what the initial situation of the company, this would be a bad sign.
The five-step, or extended, DuPont equation breaks down net profit margin further. From the three-step equation we saw that, in general, rises in the net profit margin, asset turnover and leverage will increase ROE. The five-step equation shows that increases in leverage don't always indicate an increase in ROE.
| The Five-Step Calculation
Since the numerator of the net profit margin is net income, this can be made into earnings before taxes (EBT) by multiplying the three-step equation by 1 minus the company's tax rate:
We can break this down one more time, since earnings before taxes is simply earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) minus the company's interest expense. So, if a substitution is made for the interest expense, we get:
The practicality of this breakdown is not as clear as the three-step, but this identity provides us with:
If the company has a high borrowing cost, its interest expenses on more debt could mute the positive effects of the leverage.
Learn the Cause Behind the Effect
Both the three- and five-step equations provide deeper understanding of a company's ROE by examining what is really changing in a company rather than looking at one simple ratio. As always with financial statement ratios, they should be examined against the company's history and its competitors.
For example, when looking at two peer companies, one may have a lower ROE. With the five-step equation, you can see if this is lower because: creditors perceive the company as riskier and charge it higher interest, the company is poorly managed and has leverage that is too low, or the company has higher costs that decrease its operating profit margin. Identifying sources like these leads to better knowledge of the company and how it should be valued.
The Bottom Line
A simple calculation of ROE may be easy and tell quite a bit, but it does not provide the whole picture. If a company's ROE is lower than its peers, the three- or five-step identities can help show where the company is lagging. It can also shed light on how a company is lifting or propping up its ROE. DuPont analysis helps significantly broaden understanding of ROE.
MarketsBoth measure performance, but sometimes they tell a very different story. This is why they’re best used together.
EconomicsIt pays to invest in companies that generate profits more efficiently than their rivals. This is where ROE comes in.
Fundamental AnalysisFind out if management is doing its job of creating profit for investors.
Fundamental AnalysisP/E may be the established standard for valuation purposes, but the earnings yield is especially useful for comparing potential returns across different instruments.
Mutual Funds & ETFsThese funds are a relatively new product to most investors, but they could be what you need for increased returns.
Options & FuturesReturn on equity is a widely used ratio, but return on net operating assets (RNOA) takes things one step farther.
Stock AnalysisExamine the current state of Netflix Inc., and learn about three of the major fundamental risks that the company is currently facing.
Stock AnalysisExamine the Seagate acquisition of Dot Hill Systems, and learn what Seagate is looking to gain by acquiring Dot Hill's software technology.
InvestingIn an industry still largely predominated by men, we look at 6 leading female value investors working today.
TermFinancial performance measures a firm’s ability to generate profits through the use of its assets.
Depending on the variable being changed, the equity multiplier either has a negative relationship or no relationship to the ... Read Full Answer >>
The basic DuPont analysis formula, sometimes called the three-step DuPont model, uses net profit margin as its measure for ... Read Full Answer >>
DuPont analysis is a method of mathematical decomposition that provides additional insight into elements that drive a company's ... Read Full Answer >>
In the three-step DuPont analysis model, the equity multiplier is one of the three components of return on equity (ROE), ... Read Full Answer >>
A company's working capital ratio can be too high in the sense that an excessively high ratio is generally considered an ... Read Full Answer >>
Discounted cash flow (DCF) analysis can be a very helpful tool for analysts and investors in equity valuation. It provides ... Read Full Answer >>