Is James Hardie Industries plc (ASX:JHX) A High Quality Stock To Own?

One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. We’ll use ROE to examine James Hardie Industries plc (ASX:JHX), by way of a worked example.

Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. In simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder’s equity.

Check out our latest analysis for James Hardie Industries

How Is ROE Calculated?

ROE can be calculated by using the formula:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for James Hardie Industries is:

15% = US$164m ÷ US$1.1b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).

The ‘return’ is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each A$1 of shareholders’ capital it has, the company made A$0.15 in profit.

Does James Hardie Industries Have A Good Return On Equity?

By comparing a company’s ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, James Hardie Industries has a better ROE than the average (4.9%) in the Basic Materials industry.

That’s what we like to see. With that said, a high ROE doesn’t always indicate high profitability. Especially when a firm uses high levels of debt to finance its debt which may boost its ROE but the high leverage puts the company at risk. Our risks dashboardshould have the 3 risks we have identified for James Hardie Industries.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

James Hardie Industries’ Debt And Its 15% ROE

James Hardie Industries clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.15. While its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit as to how much debt a company can use. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

Conclusion

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you’ll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth — and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course James Hardie Industries may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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