# Return on common stockholders’ equity ratio explanation, formula, example and interpretation

Return on equity (ROE) measures financial performance by dividing net income by shareholders’ equity. Because shareholders’ equity is equal to a company’s assets minus its debt, ROE is considered the return on net assets (as opposed to return on total assets). To calculate ROE, analysts simply divide the company’s net income by its average shareholders’ equity. Because shareholders’ equity is equal to assets minus liabilities, ROE is essentially a measure of the return generated on the net assets of the company.

This can inflate earnings per share (EPS), but it does not affect actual performance or growth rates. The Return on Common Equity (ROCE) ratio refers to the return that common equity investors receive on their investment. Capital received from investors as preferred equity is excluded from this calculation, thus making the ratio more representative of common equity investor returns.

## Limitations of Return on Equity

This is often beneficial because it allows companies and investors alike to see what sort of return the voting shareholders are getting if preferred and other types of shares are not counted. As discussed above, the ratio can be used to assess future dividends and management’s use of common equity capital. However, it is not a perfect measure,  since a high ROCE can be misleading. Anastasia finds out that for each dollar invested, the company ABC returns 29.2% of its net income to the common stockholders. Compared to the industry average of 22.4%, the company ABC is a safe bet for investing. She wants to calculate the ROCE equation to compare the firm with the industry.

The numerator in the above formula consists of net income available for common stockholders which is equal to net income less dividend on preferred stock. Return on Common Equity is used by some investors to assess the likelihood and size of dividends that the company may pay out in the future. A high ROCE indicates the company is generating high profits from its equity investments, thus making dividend payouts more likely. Common stock investors use ROCE to evaluate how well a company has used their money to generate profits. They expect the company to use it effectively and efficiently to generate maximum revenue at a minimal cost. For example, companies use it to invest in key projects to support future revenue growth and, at the same time, manage them efficiently.

## What Is a Good ROE?

The goal of investing in a corporation is for stockholders to accumulate wealth as a result of the company making a profit. The ratio looks at how well the investments of preferred and common stockholders are being used to reach that goal. Dividends are discretionary, meaning that a company is not under a legal obligation to pay dividends to common equity shareholders. Whether a company pays out dividends often depends on where the company is in its lifecycle. An early-stage company is likely to reinvest its earnings in growing the business, such as funding R&D for new products. A more mature company that is already profitable may choose to disburse its earnings as dividends to keep investors happy.

• For new and growing companies, a negative ROE is often to be expected; however, if negative ROE persists it can be a sign of trouble.
• Finally, negative net income and negative shareholders’ equity can create an artificially high ROE.
• Shareholders’ equity comes from the balance sheet—a running balance of a company’s entire history of changes in assets and liabilities.
• Because shareholders’ equity is equal to a company’s assets minus its debt, ROE is considered the return on net assets.
• The purpose of ROIC is to figure out the amount of money after dividends a company makes based on all its sources of capital, which includes shareholders’ equity and debt.

It can give us insight into how well the company generates returns to its common stockholders relative to competitors. In the context of finance and accounting, there are various financial ratios which are used for analyzing the financial performance of a firm and comparing it with that of the peers. The return on equity, net operating margin, gross margin and return on assets ratios are profitability ratios.

## How Do You Calculate ROE?

Suppose that a company chooses to pursue an NPV-positive opportunity and funds the project with debt capital. In this scenario, ROCE would increase by a fair margin since the amount of outstanding common equity has not changed, but net income has increased. However, the rise in net income was not due to management’s effective use of equity capital. Return on equity is a common financial metric that compares how much income a company made compared to its total shareholders’ equity. Since equity is equal to assets minus liabilities, increasing liabilities (e.g., taking on more debt financing) is one way to artificially boost ROE without necessarily increasing profitability. This can be amplified if that debt is used to engage in share buybacks, effectively reducing the amount of equity available.

ROCE increases if the additional costs of new debt generate more profit at a higher percentage. The higher the percentage, the more favorable it is and the higher the return available to common stockholders. On the other hand, the lower the percentage, the less is available to them. Common variations of this metric include Return on Common Stockholders Equity (which would treat preferred stock more like debt) and Return on Invested Capital (ROIC). A better use of the measurement is to couple it with an analysis of where a company is in its life cycle. A mature business with a high ROCE is more likely to have enough cash on hand to pay dividends.

## When to Use the Return on Common Equity

Because of that fact, management may be tempted to take actions that inflate the ratio.

The ROCE ratio can also be used to evaluate how well the company’s management has utilized equity capital to generate values. A high ROCE suggests that the company’s management is making good use of equity capital by investing in NPV-positive projects. Doing so increases the return on common equity, but risks bankruptcy if management cannot pay off the debts in a timely manner. As with most other performance metrics, what counts as a “good” ROE will depend on the company’s industry and competitors.

It is crucial to utilize a combination of financial metrics to get a full understanding of a company’s financial health before investing. Now, assume that LossCo has had a windfall in the most recent year and has returned to profitability. The denominator in the ROE calculation is now very small after many years of losses, which makes its ROE misleadingly high. However, if taking on debt leads to the opposite consequence, it weighs on the company’s finances in the future.