As investors, we need to understand how our companies truly make their money. A neat trick developed for just that purpose -- the DuPont Formula -- can help us do so.
The DuPont Formula can give you a better grasp on exactly where your company is producing its profit, and where it might have a competitive advantage. Named after the company where it was pioneered, the formula breaks down return on equity into three components:
Return on equity = net margin x asset turnover x leverage ratio
What makes each of these components important?
- High net margins show that a company can get customers to pay more for its products. Luxury-goods companies provide a great example here.
- High asset turnover indicates that a company needs to invest less of its capital, since it uses its assets more efficiently to generate sales. Service industries, for instance, often lack big capital investments.
- Finally, the leverage ratio shows how much the company is relying on liabilities to create its profits.
Generally, the higher these numbers, the better. That said, too much debt can sink a company, so beware of companies with very high leverage ratios.
Let's see what the DuPont Formula can tell us about Frontier Communications
Return on Equity
Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.
High leverage is common in telecom, and you can see that here. Frontier achieves a lackluster ROE, with margins that are much lower than peers’ despite having a relatively good asset turnover and significant leverage. CenturyLink’s ROE is comparable, with that telecom squeezing out a higher net margin but using less asset turnover and leverage. Windstream puts up an excellent ROE, but the key driver is its high leverage, since the other metrics are in line with its rivals'. AT&T records the best ROE of this group, largely through a strong net margin and asset turnover, even without using excessive leverage.
Using the DuPont formula can often give you some insight into how a company is competing against peers and what type of strategy it's using to juice return on equity. To find more successful investments, dig deeper than the earnings headlines. If you'd like to add these companies to your watchlist, click on any of the links below:
Jim Royal, Ph.D., owns shares of Frontier. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of AT&T. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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