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What Do These Ratios Tell Us About Wm. Morrison Supermarkets Plc (MRW)?

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LONDON — Before I decide whether to buy a company’s shares, I always like to look at two core financial ratios — return on equity and net gearing.

These two ratios provide an indication of how successful a company is at generating profits using shareholders’ funds and debt, and they have a strong influence on dividend payments and share price growth.

Today, I’m going to take a look at Wm. Morrison Supermarkets plc (LON:MRW) to see how attractive it looks on these two measures.

Return on equity
The return a company generates on its shareholders’ funds is known as return on equity, or ROE. ROE can be calculated by dividing a company’s annual earnings by its equity (i.e., the difference between its total assets and its total liabilities) and is expressed as a percentage.

Wm. Morrison Supermarkets plc (LON:MRW) has doubled its annual dividend payout over the last five years, rewarding long-term shareholders. Let’s take a look at the firm’s ROE over the same period:

Wm. Morrison 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Average
ROE 10.3% 12.6% 12.2% 12.8% 12.2% 12%

Morrisons’ ROE has been extremely consistent over the last four years, and its five-year average of 12% is similar to those of other U.K. supermarkets.

What about debt?
One weakness of ROE is that it doesn’t show how much debt a company is using to boost its returns. A good way of assessing a company’s debt levels is by looking at its net gearing — the ratio of net debt to equity.

In the table below, I’ve listed Wm. Morrison Supermarkets plc (LON:MRW)’ net gearing and ROE alongside those of its peers,Tesco and J. Sainsbury:

Company Net Gearing 5-Year
Average ROE
J. Sainsbury 39.5% 10.5%
Wm. Morrison 41.4% 12%
Tesco 46.9% 15.5%

The supermarkets’ average ROE and net gearing appear to be closely correlated, highlighting the influence that debt can have on ROE.

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