ROE (Return On Equity)Meaning & Definition, Formula & How to Calculate

Written By:
Lisa Borga

What Is Return on Equity?

Return on Equity (ROE) is a way to measure a  company’s financial performance in relation to its equity.

This is done by taking a company’s net income and dividing it by stockholders’ equity.

This provides a picture of how efficiently a company converts shareholder equity into profit.


Return on Equity Formula

ROE is calculated prior to payment of dividends to common stockholders and after payment to holders of preferred shares and for interest on the debt.

This will use net income and divide it by shareholders’ equity. Here is the formula:

ROE = Annual Net Income / Average Shareholders’ Equity

Net income, or annual return, is the measurement of the amount of income a company makes in a given period after expenses, as well as taxes, are accounted for.

This information is taken from the income statement, which provides the culmination of all financial activity that took place throughout the course of an accounting period.

Stockholers’equitys comes from the balance sheet, which provides the assets, liabilities, and equity of an organization at a particular point in time.

Due to the differences in timing, it is considered good practice to take an average of stock equity from the beginning and end of the period in which the net income was earned.

What Does Return on Equity Tell You?

ROE tells users whether or not investors are receiving a strong return on their investment.

However, whether or not a particular ROE is good or not will depend on the industry and a company’s competitors.

For example, companies that normally have high debt and many assets with low net income, such as utility companies, will typically have a low ROE, often less than 12%.

However, the retail firm will generally have less on their balance sheets in proportion to their net income resulting in ROE commonly resting at higher than 15%

Generally, a healthy and favorable ROE will be at or a small amount above the average for a company’s sector.

Investors can reasonably conclude that if a given company maintains an ROE that is steadily slightly higher than its competitors for several years, then its management is doing a better than average job at generating profit from the company’s assets.

Though whether or not an ROE is high or low is best measured relative to other companies in a given industry, there is a range that is commonly considered good.

This is anything between 15% to 20% percent.

ROE and Stock Performance

ROE can be useful for estimating what a sustainable growth rate or dividend rate would be for a company if the ratio is either about the same as similar companies or a bit higher.

This can be difficult to do, but they are useful calculations.

Also, you can use these two computations to compare companies since they are related.

In order to calculate an estimate of a company’s growth rate, take the company’s ROE and multiply this by the retention ratio for the company.

A company’s retention ratio is the percentage of net profits that a company retains instead of distributing as dividends.

ROE and a Sustainable Growth Rate

Suppose two companies have the same ROE and the same net income, but they don’t have the same retention ratios.

Company 1 has a return on investment of 20% and distributes 35% of its net income to its stockholders as dividends.

This means that Company 1 keeps 65% of the net income it has earned.

Company 2 has a return on investment of 20% as well.

However, it has a lower percentage of returns, distributing 15% of its net income in dividends to its stockholders.

The is means Company 2 has a retention ratio of 85%.

The growth rate for Company 1 is 13%.

The growth rate is calculated by multiplying the ROE by the retention ratio. So, the growth rate for Company 1 is 13% (20% * 65%).

Company 2 has a growth rate of 17% (20% * 85%).

The analysis used in the above examples is called the sustainable growth rate model.

This analysis can be used by investors that want to determine whether or not a stock might be a risky investment due to having a growth rate that is not sustainable.

If a company has a growth rate that is lower than its sustainable rate, it could mean the stock is undervalued, or the market may be underestimating signs of risk the company is showing.

If a company is in either of these situations, it would be best to investigate further.

return on equity

Estimating the Dividend Growth Rate

In the above example, Company 2 looks like a better investment than Company 1.

Although this conclusion fails to consider the higher dividend investors in Company 1 received.

But, the calculation used to estimate the dividend growth rate of the stock, which some investors.

Are more concerned about.

An estimate of the dividend growth rate can be computed by taking the payout ratio and multiplying it by the ROE.

The payout ratio or dividend payout ratio is the proportion of a company’s net income that is paid out as dividends to its common stockholders.

When calculating the dividend growth rate for Company 1 and Company 2, Company 1 looks better as it has a higher dividend growth rate.

Company 1 has a dividend growth rate of 7%, which is the return on investment multiplied by the payout ratio or, in this case, 20% multiplied by 35%.

Company 2 has a dividend growth rate of  3%, computed by taking 20% times 15%.

When looking at dividend growth rates, an investor should investigate any company that is distributing dividends that are much higher or lower than the sustainable growth rate.

How Can Return on Equity Identify Issues?

An extremely low or negative return on equity can clearly indicate problems; however, many that are new to investing wonder why a well above average ROE also can reveal the problem.

After all, doesn’t an extremely high ROE indicate a great value?

In some cases, it may be a good thing to have a far above average ROE if a company’s net income is simply so high compared to its equity as a result of strong performance.

However, an inordinately high ROE often indicates a small equity account relative to its net income, which indicates a risk.

There are three issues that could lead to a disproportionately high or low ROE and indicate risk.

Inconsistent Revenue

One issue that may result in an extremely high ROE is inconsistent revenue.

Consider a company that has faced losses for a number of years in a row.

In every one of those years, the balance sheet will record a negative value for “retained loss’ that accrues and reduces shareholders’ equity.

Now picture if this company were to suddenly achieve profitability.

After several years of losses, equity will have been reduced considerably, leading to a misleadingly large ROE.

High Debt

High debt can also result in a disproportionately high ROE.

After all, equity is calculated by taking assets and subtracting all debts, which means that the more debt a company possesses, the lower its equity will be.

This may happen if a company uses debt funding to perform a stock buyback.

Though this will result in a greater amount of earnings per share, it will not result in greater performance or growth for the company.

Negative Net Income or Shareholders’ Equity

If a company has a negative net income or a negative, then ROE should not be calculated.

If both of these values are negative, it could result in an extremely high ROE.

However, it is important to remember that in these cases, the value may be misleading.

It may be wise to instead take the opportunity to investigate the drivers causing the value.

A negative shareholders’ equity could indicate that the company is suffering from either high debt or inconsistent revenue; however, it may also be due to a company attempting to buy back its own share.

A company may choose to do this as an alternative to paying dividends which at a point will result in a negative calculation.

No matter what the case is, though, a negative or very high level of ROE is something to consider, and its causes should be investigated.

In a few cases, it may even show that a company is benefiting from good management and is performing a buyback program from cash flow.

This is much less likely than its negative alternatives. However, it is worth determining.

No matter what the case is, though, a company with a negative ROE should never be compared against those with a positive ROE ratio.

Drawbacks of Return on Equity

ROE provides a useful tool for comparing different stocks; however, it has some limitations to consider.

Though a high ROE in many cases is positive, that is not always the case.

Instead, it could indicate an unstable company or one suffering from extremely high debt.

In other cases, it may not be able to be used to analyze a company or compare it with its competitors due to a negative in net income or shareholders equity.

Though a potentially useful tool, these limitations should be kept in mind when using ROE to make judgments.

Return on Equity Vs. Return on Invested Capital

ROE is a calculation to find out what amount of profit a business makes in comparison to shareholders’ equity.

However, Return on invested capital (ROIC) provides a way to expand that measurement.

ROIC measures how much money is remaining after its dividends are paid that a company generated with all of the sources of capital available to it.

This includes both debt and equity, providing a picture of how a business performs using all of the sources of funding that are available to it.

In contrast, ROE uses only equity and, as a result, provides a more focused but limited picture.

Examples of Return on Equity

Consider a company that has an annual income of $3,400,000 and has an average stockholders’ equity of $22,000,000.

The ROE for the company would be calculated by taking the net income divided by the stockholders’ equity.

ROE = $3,740,000/$22,000,000

ROE = 17%

Also, look at Kroger Co.; it had an income of $2,556 million in 2021 and stockholder’s equity of $9,576.

The ROE for Krogers would be:

ROE = $2,556/$9,576

ROE = 26.7%

Kroger Co. seems to have a typical ROE for the grocery industry.

In contrast, Albertsons Cos. Inc. has a high ROE.

Albertsons Cos. Inc. had an ROE of 64.2% in 2021.

Costco Wholesale had an ROE of 28.5.

ROE is calculated by dividing its net income by stockholders’ equity.

This can be done with Microsoft Excel. The instruction for setting this up follow.

After starting excel, right-click on column A.

Then, move your cursor down and left-click on the column width.

Next, change the value for column width to the 30 default units and click OK and do this for columns B and C as well.

Then, type the company name into cell B1 and type another company name into C1.

After this, you should enter “net income” into cell A2 and then enter “stockholders’ equity” into cell A3, and then “return on income” into cell A4.

Next, enter the formula for “Return on Equity” =B2/B3 into cell B4, and once that is done, enter the formula =C2/C3 into cell C4.

After finishing, enter the values for both the “net income” and “stockholders’ equity” into cells B2, B3, C2, AND C3.

ROE and DuPont Analysis

It’s simple to calculate ROE by dividing a company’s net income by its stockholder’s equity.

However, there is a method named the DuPont decomposition that separates the computation of the ROE into further steps.

This method was invented in the 1920s by DuPont, an American Chemical Corporation.

The technique shows the factors that contribute the largest or smallest amounts to the ROE of a company.

The DuPont model has two different versions.

One model has three steps and is shown below:

ROE= (Net Income/ Sales) * (Net Sales/Total Assets) * (Total Assets/Total Equity)

Alternatively, it can be calculated as follows.

(Profit Margin * Total ) / (Asset Turnover * Equity Multiplier)

There is also a five-step method, as shown below.

ROE = (Net Income/ Pretax Income) * (Net Sales/Total Assets) * (Total Assets/Total Equity) * (Pretax Income/ EBIT)* (EBIT/Sales)

= Tax Burden * Asset Turnover * Equity Multiplier * Interest Burden * Operating Margin

Both of these methods help investors to better understand a company’s ROE.

The DuPont method does more than look at a single ratio. It looks at how a company is changing.

However, the method should be used in addition to examining a company’s history and the history of its competitors.

An example of this would be investigating two similar companies, with one of the companies having a lower ROE. The five-step DuPont.

The method would allow an investor to look at why one company has a lower ROE.

Do creditors view the company as being riskier, thus charging higher interest rates?

Or, does the company have higher costs that cause it to have a lower operating profit margin?

Learning these things can allow an investor to get a better idea of a company’s value.

Is There a Good ROE?

There is not one specific ROE that is good for every company.

A good ROE will vary from industry to industry and depend on a business’s competitors as well.

Generally, industries that are very competitive and need a large number of assets will tend to have an average ROE that is lower than industries that are less competitive and require fewer assets

How Is ROE Calculated?

ROE is calculated by dividing the net income of the business by the average stockholder’s equity of the business.

ROE is basically a way of measuring the return a business generates on its net assets since stockholders’ equity is equal to a company’s total assets minus its total liabilities.

Because stockholders’ equity can vary a lot during any one period, an average of stockholder’s equity is used when calculating ROE.

What Are the Differences Between Return on Assets and Return on Equity?

Both of these ratios attempt the gauge a company’s profitability however they do.

This is in different ways. ROA measures a company’s profitability with respect to its assets without deducting liabilities.

Whereas ROE measures the rate of return stockholders are receiving on their investment.

It measures the net income a business generates and compares this to the net assets.

When using either of these metrics, companies that need a large amount of assets will typically have a lower average return.

Key Takeaways

  • Return on Equity is a two-part ratio that divides net income from the income statement by shareholders’ equity from the balance sheet.
  • ROE is a measure of a company’s ability to efficiently generate profits.
  • ROE should be compared against other companies within its industry to judge whether or not it is suitable.

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  1. University of Alaska "Return on Equity " Page 1 . December 10, 2021

  2. Stern NYU "The Fundamental Determinants of Growth" Page 1 . December 10, 2021

  3. Purdue University "Du Pont Financial Analysis" Page 1 . December 10, 2021