Saturday, July 07, 2007

Return on Equity, Episode III (ROE-EP3): Du Pont Decomposition

Return on Equity can be broken down into three different parts. This famous decomposition is known as the Du Pont Decomposition. Does it have to do with the chemical giant Du Pont? Probably yes, but for those interested, you can go Google and Wiki it up, now we are at the climax of the trilogy, so let’s move on. Recall that:

ROE = Net Profit / Shareholders’ Equity

This can be broken down into

ROE = Net Profit / Sales x Sales / Asset x Asset / Equity

Mathematically, this makes no sense as Sales and Asset are all cancelled out, why include them in the first place? Engineers cannot understand this. But when we break down ROE into these three elements, ROE can be re-written as

ROE = Net margin x Asset Turnover x Leverage

There are still a few twists and turns to the climax of this trilogy but to cut the story short it simply means that ROE is impacted by these 3 things

1) Net margin (which is Net Profit / Sales)
2) Asset Turnover (which is Sales / Assets)
3) Leverage (which is Asset / Equity)

In order to increase the company’s ROE, we just need to improve either one of the 3 things mentioned above.

We can reduce cost, hence even if sales remains the same, net margin goes up, ROE goes up. We can increase asset turnover, i.e. by making our existing asset work harder to generate more sales. Or we can increase debt.

Now (1) and (3) are easy. For (1) you just fire a whole bunch of people, make the rest work harder, or hire 10,000 cheap workers from emerging countries to replace those you fired. For (3), it is even easier, just borrow more. By borrowing, you increase the liabilities that your co incurs thereby increasing your asset base (usually as an increase in cash) which can translate into more sales and profits if those cash or assets are used correctly and hence ROE goes up.

To improve ROE by improving (2) i.e. increasing Asset Turnover is one hell of a job. I have got a post on that. Read this! Basically, when you see a company with high ROE, it pays to see how this high ROE came about. If it is due to high debt, then maybe it’s a Decepticon! So beware, there is more than meets the eye!

If it is due to either (1) or (2) then, probably it’s still ok. But if you see a company’s ROE improve over the years and it’s due to only (2), increase in Asset Turnover, then give the management some respect. It’s a job well done! And it is time to load the truck with stocks of this company!