Saturday, June 23, 2007

Return on Equity, Episode II (ROE-EP2): A company’s organic growth rate

ROE can also be used to gauge a company’s organic growth rate. This means how fast the company can grow without relying on external factors like M&A, gahmen support, tax relief, Toto winfall, father mother sponsorship or anything else other than its own profits.

Remember that Net Profit, though a volatile no. due to multiple manipulation from sales, to operating costs, to interest and tax, does measure the profit that should go to shareholders if the accounting is done with integrity. And Net Profit is actually added to Shareholders’ Equity at the end of the year.

So Return on Equity or ROE which is

Net Profit / Shareholders’ Equity

tells you how the growth rate of shareholders’ equity has been, in the past 1 year. Now if past ROE is a good gauge for future ROE, we can then assume that next year’s Shareholder Equity will grow exactly by its ROE right? Savvy huh! This is the critical part, usually, high ROE will not last into the future bcos things always mean revert. But if you tracked this particular Co. which had ROE of 20% for the past 20 yrs, then maybe you can quite safely assume next year it will be 20% as well. Btw, ROE of 15-20% is sort of a long term average that things mean revert to. If the Co. has like ROE of 50%, then probably it will mean revert to 20% after some time.

Ok, analogy time. Say Co. X has a ROE of 20% for the past 20 yrs and shareholders’ equity of $100 at the end of Year 20. Since ROE has been 20% for donkey years, we can assume that it is also 20% in Year 21. And Voila, it IS 20% and Co. X earns $20 in net profit. Assuming the Co. X pays no dividend, this $20 is then added back to shareholders’ equity at the end of Year 21 and so Co. X shareholders’ equity becomes $120. In Year 22, Co X again earns 20% of $120 in net profit which will again be added back to its shareholders’ equity and become $144. Shiok huh!

So as you can see, ROE measures the growth rate of the company’s shareholders’ equity if the company does not distribute out net profits as dividends. (If it does, the growth rate simply becomes ROE x (1 – payout ratio), where payout ratio is between 0-100%.)

So when a company has an ROE of 20% and can maintain that, it means that the company can grow its equity base organically by 20% every year (i.e. without relying on M&A etc). Sounds attractive right? This is another reason why people look at ROE so much.

PS: Shareholders’ equity can grow by 20% per year doesn’t mean that stock price will also grow by 20% per year, There is difference between performance of the company and the performance of the stock!

See also ROE Part I

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Return on Equity, Episode I (ROE-EP1): Beating the Cost of Equity

That's a cool title! Agree? Anyways, this is probably the last important financial ratio that I have not touched on. You are wondering just how many financial ratios did Wall Street come up with right? Well this is different, this is the famous ROE and its equally famous Du Pont decomposition, chim huh?

Ok, Return on Equity or ROE measure the return that can be earned by the portion of shareholders’ money in the company. Mathematically, it is defined as

Net Profit / Shareholders’ Equity

This is totally different from earnings yield so pls don’t get confused. ROE has to do with the financial performance of the company while earnings yield deals with the performance of the stock. Over the long run (i.e. very long lah, like 20 yrs or more), both should converge, but fundamentally they measure different things.

So why is ROE important? Bcos it measures the profitability of the company with respect to shareholders’ funding. Equity capital comes at a cost (just like debt) and a company with a low ROE runs the risk that it cannot earn its cost of capital (equity in this case) and this means that the company is in deep shit.

As an analogy, say Investor T decides to invest in this Company S and T demands a 8% return over the long run. If you are asking why 8%, don’t ask bcos it introduces a lot of chim stuff like CAPM and more Nobel Laureates which will make it quite complicated. So let us save that for another post.

So T wants 8% but say this S is actually quite crappy and can only do 5% return. This means that T is not adequately compensated for investing in S bcos S is a in a risky business and T might as well have put the money in a bank or perhaps invest in a structured product tied to the growth rate of ministers’ pay which could have given T 8% return or more. So that’s bad news for S bcos equity funds will pull out and S may have to cease operations. So in order for S not to cease operating, it must has a ROE at least as high as its cost of equity.

In other words, a company should earn its cost of equity in order to justify its existence to shareholders. The higher the ROE, the easier for the company to earn its cost of equity and the better the company is as an investment. This concept can be expanded to the cost of capital of the company, where we bring in the cost of debt together with the cost of equity. So a company has to earn a return more than its cost of capital to justify its existence to both shareholders and debtholders.

There are other ways to look at ROE and we shall examine them in later posts.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Price Earnings Ratio and Earnings Yield (Again!)

One way of using Price Earnings Ratio (PER) is to look at its inverse: Earnings Yield. This has been discussed in a previous post, but I would like to emphasize the importance of Earnings Yield, hence the PER strikes back. Do not under-estimate the power of PER… Ok ok, let’s move on.

Earnings yield is the inverse of Price Earnings, meaning when I say I will only buy stocks with PER of 18x and below, I am actually saying I will only buy stocks with earnings yield of 5.6% and above. Or stocks that will give me 5.6% return over the long run. (1/18 is 0.056 or 5.6%, this is what I meant by the inverse)

Consider the China market now. Its PER is over 40x. This means that the Chinese farmers and the Chinese students are willing to buy stocks that will actually only give them 2.5% return (1/40 is 0.025 or 2.5%). They might as well put their money in fixed deposit in Singapore! The other time when the PER of a market reached 40x was during the dot com bubble. Of course, with bubbles, you can never know when it will break, so 40x can go even higher, to 100x. And with China, it may be possible bcos there are maybe another 800mn farmers and students waiting to open brokerage accounts. This is the perfect Greater Fool Game, if you are those who like to play this game.

Earnings yield can also be incorporated with the risk-free rate to calculate the equity risk premium, i.e. the excess return to investors who are willing to risk their money to get better return, hence a risk premium. Remember higher risk, higher return. For STI, the earnings yield currently is roughly 5% while the risk free rate is roughly 3%, so investors are being compensated an additional 2%, the equity risk premium, for investing in risky equities or stocks. That’s actually quite low by historical standards. Equity risk premium should be around 3-5% on average.

For the case of our lovely China, the risk-free rate is now roughly 3% while the market earnings yield is 2.5%. This means that the equity risk premium is actually negative! 2.5% minus 3% gives -0.5%. You are being penalized to invest in risky equities. This is higher risk lower return! What an ingenious break-through!

However, I must stress that a lot of this stuff is academic talk and offers little help in the real world, China’s equity risk premium can go to -3% for all you know, meaning the stock market can still double from current levels.

But earnings yield is a very handy concept to use when you want to gauge the potential return that you will get from your investment (if you hold for the long term). Next time you want to buy a stock with PER 30x, ask yourself, am I ok with this stock giving me a mere 3.3% return over the long term? I would advise you to go open fixed deposit!