What is the Equity Multiplier
The equity multiplier is a commonly used financial ratio calculated by dividing a company's total asset value by total net equity. It is a measure of financial leverage. Companies finance their operations with equity or debt, so a higher equity multiplier indicates that a larger portion of asset financing is attributed to debt. The equity multiplier is therefore a variation of the debt ratio, in which the definition of debt financing includes all liabilities.
Calculation of the equity multiplier is relatively simple and straightforward. Consider the balance sheet of Apple Inc. (AAPL) as of the end of fiscal year 2017. The company's total assets were $375 billion, and the book value of shareholder equity was $134 billion. The company's equity multiplier was therefore 2.8x, which can be compared with its equity multiplier for the year 2016, which was 2.34x. We can compare equity multipliers between two companies. Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) operates with a very different business model that includes more financial leverage. The company's total assets were $257 billion as of end of fiscal year 2017, with $43 billion of shareholder equity. The equity multiplier was 6x, based on these values.
BREAKING DOWN Equity Multiplier
Verizon's much lower proportionate shareholder equity value indicates that the business relies more heavily on financing from debt and other interest-bearing liabilities. The company's telecommunications business model is more reminiscent of utilities firms, which have stable, predictable cash flows and typically carry high debt levels.
On the other hand, Apple is more susceptible to changing economic conditions or evolving industry standards than utilities or large traditional telecommunications firms. As a result, Apple has less financial leverage. Differences in business models mean that higher financial leverage does not necessarily indicate superior financial health.
The equity multiplier is also an important factor in DuPont factor analysis, which is a method of financial assessment devised by the DuPont Corp. for the purpose of internal review. The DuPont model breaks return on equity (ROE) into its constituent pieces, which are popular financial ratios and metrics. Net profit margin, asset turnover and the equity multiplier are combined to calculate ROE, which allows analysts to consider the relative of each impact separately. If ROE changes over time or diverges from normal levels for the peer group, DuPont analysis indicates how much of this is attributable to financial leverage. If the equity multiplier fluctuates, it can significantly affect ROE. Higher financial leverage drives ROE upward, all other factors remaining equal.