Return on Assets (ROA) - Meaning, Formula, Assumptions and Interpretation

Another metric that is widely used by investors to gauge the profitability of a company is Return on Assets (ROA). More about this very important ratio has been stated in this article.

Formula

Return on Assets = Earnings / Asset Base

  • Some calculations may include intangible assets while some others may exclude them from calculation of Return on Assets.

Meaning

The Return on Assets (ROA) ratio shows the relationship between earnings and asset base of the company. The higher the ratio, the better it is. This is because a higher ratio would indicate that the company can produce relatively higher earnings in comparison to its asset base i.e. more capital efficiency.

Assumptions

  • No Write-downs:

    The ROA ratio assumes that the assets have been valued fairly on the books. However, in real life, it is a known fact that companies keep over and/or under valuing their assets to reduce taxation. This may affect the ROA adversely and reduce its usability as a profitability metric.

  • Excess Cash and Assets for Sale:

    The Return on Assets ratio assumes that the company is using all its assets to run the day to day operations. This assumption is likely to be proved incorrect. A lot of companies hold significant cash on their balance sheet. The most valuable company in the world Apple Inc is one such example. Also many other companies hold a lot of impaired and obsolete assets which they plan to sell in the near future. This brings down the Return On Assets (ROA) ratio.

Interpretation

  • Does Not Depend on Leverage:

    Return on assets compares the earnings that a company has generated to its asset base. The asset base could be financed by equity or by debt but it will not make a difference. Return on Assets is therefore independent of leverage.

  • Stage of Growth:

    Return on Assets is very sensitive to the stage of growth that a company is currently experiencing. In the introduction and growth stage, companies invest a lot of money to create asset bases. They may not use the asset base immediately and the benefits may be realized years later. Hence, two companies in the same industry, but at different stages of growth, will have very different Return On Assets.


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