Return on Equity (ROE) is the measure of a company’s annual return (net income) divided by the value of its total shareholders’ equity, expressed as a percentage (e.g., 12%). Alternatively, ROE can also be derived by dividing the firm’s dividend growth rate by its earnings retention rate (1 – dividend payout ratio). Return on Equity is a two-part ratio in its derivation because it brings together the income statement and the balance sheet, where net income or profit is compared to the shareholders’ equity. The number represents the total return on equity capital and shows the firm’s ability to turn equity investments into profits. To put it another way, it measures the profits made for each dollar from shareholders’ equity.

Return on Equity Formula
The following is the ROE equation:

ROE = Net Income / Shareholders’ Equity

ROE provides a simple metric for evaluating investment returns. By comparing a company’s ROE to the industry’s average, something may be pinpointed about the company’s competitive advantage. ROE may also provide insight into how the company management is using financing from equity to grow the business. A sustainable and increasing ROE over time can mean a company is good at generating shareholder value because it knows how to reinvest its earnings wisely, so as to increase productivity and profits. In contrast, a declining ROE can mean that management is making poor decisions on reinvesting capital in unproductive assets.

ROE Formula Drivers

While the simple return on equity formula is net income divided by shareholder’s equity, we can break it down further into additional drivers. As you can see in the diagram below, the return on equity formula is also a function of a firm’s return on assets (ROA) and the amount of financial leverage it has. Both of these concepts will be discussed in more detail below.

How to Use Return on Equity

Some industries tend to achieve higher ROEs than others, and therefore, ROE is most useful when comparing companies within the same industry. Cyclical industries tend to generate higher ROEs than defensive industries, which is due to the different risk characteristics attributable to them. A riskier firm will have a higher cost of capital and a higher cost of equity. Furthermore, it is useful to compare a firm’s ROE to its cost of equity. A firm that has earned a return on equity higher than its cost of equity has added value. The stock of a firm with a 20% ROE will generally cost twice as much as one with a 10% ROE (all else being equal).