Small Business Glossary

Return On Equity or ROE - definition & overview


Return On Equity or ROE is the profitability ratio calculated as net income divided by average shareholders' equity. It measures the ability to generate profits from shareholders' equity.

Return On Equity, commonly referred to as ROE, is a significant financial metric that small business owners, investors, and financial analysts utilise to evaluate a company's profitability. It is a powerful tool that provides insights into the efficiency with which a company is using its shareholders' equity to generate profits. In essence, ROE measures the financial performance of a company by revealing how much profit a company generates with the money shareholders have invested.

ROE is an essential element in the financial analysis of small businesses, particularly in Australia, where the small business sector plays a crucial role in the economy. Understanding ROE can provide small business owners with a clearer picture of their financial health, helping them make more informed business decisions. It can also be a source of inspiration, demonstrating the potential returns that can be achieved with careful management and strategic investment.

Calculation of ROE

The calculation of ROE involves two key components: net income and shareholders' equity. Net income is the profit a company makes after all expenses, including taxes and cost of goods sold, have been deducted from its total revenue. Shareholders' equity, on the other hand, represents the net value of a company, calculated by subtracting total liabilities from total assets.

ROE is calculated by dividing net income by shareholders' equity, and the result is expressed as a percentage. The higher the percentage, the more effectively a company is using its equity to generate profits. However, a high ROE is not always indicative of a healthy company, as it could also suggest that a company is over-leveraged, which could lead to financial instability in the long run.

Interpretation of ROE

ROE is a relative measure, meaning its value should be compared with the ROE of other companies in the same industry to gain meaningful insights. If a company's ROE is significantly higher than its competitors, it could indicate superior management performance or a unique competitive advantage. Conversely, a lower ROE could suggest inefficiencies or potential problems that need to be addressed.

However, it's important to note that ROE should not be used in isolation to assess a company's performance. Other financial metrics, such as Return on Assets (ROA) and Debt to Equity Ratio (D/E), should also be considered to get a comprehensive understanding of a company's financial health.

Limitations of ROE

While ROE is a valuable tool in financial analysis, it has its limitations. For instance, it does not take into account the company's debt levels. A company with high debt levels might have a high ROE because debt is not included in the equity part of the equation. This could give a false impression of the company's financial health.

Additionally, ROE can be influenced by non-operating factors such as changes in tax laws or accounting rules. Therefore, it's crucial to understand the context in which the ROE is calculated to avoid misinterpretations.

ROE in the Context of Small Businesses

For small businesses, ROE can be a particularly useful tool. It can help business owners assess their company's profitability and compare it with other businesses in the same industry. This can provide valuable insights into the company's competitive position and potential areas for improvement.

Furthermore, a strong ROE can make a small business more attractive to potential investors. Investors are always looking for businesses that can generate a high return on their investment, and a high ROE can be a strong indicator of such potential.

Improving ROE

Improving ROE is not a straightforward process, as it involves increasing net income, reducing equity, or a combination of both. Strategies to increase net income include increasing sales, reducing costs, or improving operational efficiency. On the other hand, strategies to reduce equity include repurchasing shares or increasing debt. However, these strategies come with their own risks and should be carefully considered.

It's also worth noting that improving ROE should not come at the expense of the company's long-term sustainability. A company that is overly focused on improving ROE might resort to short-term strategies that could harm its long-term prospects.

ROE and Growth

ROE can also be a useful indicator of a company's growth potential. A high ROE suggests that a company is effectively using its equity to generate profits, which could be reinvested to fuel further growth. However, it's important to remember that growth should be sustainable. A company that is growing too quickly might be taking on too much risk, which could lead to financial instability.

Furthermore, growth should be balanced with profitability. A company that is growing rapidly but not generating sufficient profits might not be able to sustain its growth in the long run. Therefore, ROE should be used in conjunction with other financial metrics to assess a company's growth potential.


In conclusion, Return On Equity or ROE is a powerful tool that can provide valuable insights into a company's financial performance. It can help small business owners assess their company's profitability, compare it with other businesses in the same industry, and identify potential areas for improvement. However, like any financial metric, it has its limitations and should be used in conjunction with other metrics to get a comprehensive understanding of a company's financial health.

Understanding and effectively using ROE can be a source of inspiration for small business owners. It can demonstrate the potential returns that can be achieved with careful management and strategic investment, inspiring them to strive for excellence in their business operations. As such, ROE is not just a financial metric, but a beacon guiding small businesses towards greater profitability and success.

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