Financial analysis with the DuPont ratio: A useful compass

Financial Analysis and the Changing Role of Credit Professionals

In today’s dynamic business environment, it is important for credit professionals to be prepared to apply their skills both within and outside the specific credit management function. Credit executives may be called upon to provide insights regarding issues such as strategic financial planning, measuring the success of a business strategy or determining the viability of an acquisition candidate. Even so, the normal duties involved in credit assessment and management call for the credit manager to be equipped to conduct financial analysis in a rapid and meaningful way.

Financial statement analysis is employed for a variety of reasons. Outside investors are seeking information as to the long run viability of a business and its prospects for providing an adequate return in consideration of the risks being taken. Creditors desire to know whether a potential borrower or customer can service loans being made. Internal analysts and management utilize financial statement analysis as a means to monitor the outcome of policy decisions, predict future performance targets, develop investment strategies, and assess capital needs. As the role of the credit manager is expanded cross-functionally, he or she may be required to answer the call to conduct financial statement analysis under any of these circumstances. The DuPont ratio is a useful tool in providing both an overview and a focus for such analysis.

A comprehensive financial statement analysis will provide insights as to a firm’s performance and/or standing in the areas of liquidity, leverage, operating efficiency and profitability. A complete analysis will involve both time series and cross-sectional perspectives. Time series analysis will examine trends using the firm’s own performance as a benchmark. Cross sectional analysis will augment the process by using external performance benchmarks for comparison purposes. Every meaningful analysis will begin with a qualitative inquiry as to the strategy and policies of the subject company, creating a context for the investigation. Next, goals and objectives of the analysis will be established, providing a basis for interpreting the results. The DuPont ratio can be used as a compass in this process by directing the analyst toward significant areas of strength and weakness evident in the financial statements.

ROE = (Net Income/Sales) X (Sales/Average Assets) X (Average Assets/Average Equity) (1)

The ratio provides measures in three of the four key areas of analysis, each representing a compass bearing, pointing the way to the next stage of the investigation.

The DuPont Ratio Decomposition

The DuPont ratio is a good place to begin a financial statement analysis because it measures the return on equity (ROE). A for-profit business exists to create wealth for its owner(s). ROE is, therefore, arguably the most important of the key ratios, since it indicates the rate at which owner wealth is increasing. While the DuPont analysis is not an adequate replacement for detailed financial analysis, it provides an excellent snapshot and starting point, as will be seen below.

The three components of the DuPont ratio, as represented in equation (1), cover the areas of profitability, operating efficiency and leverage (liquidity analysis needs to be conducted separately). In the following paragraphs, we examine the meaning of each of these components by calculating and comparing the DuPont ratio using the financial statements and industry standards for Atlantic Aquatic Equipment, Inc. (Exhibits 1, 2, and 3), a retailer of water sporting goods.

Profitability: Net Profit Margin (NPM: Net Income/Sales)

Profitability ratios measure the rate at which either sales or capital is converted into profits at different levels of the operation. The most common are gross, operating and net profitability, which describe performance at different activity levels. Of the three, net profitability is the most comprehensive since it uses the bottom line net income in its measure.

The net profitability for Atlantic Aquatic Equipment in 1996 is:

Net Profit Margin = Net Income/Sales = $70,530/$5,782,000 = 1.22%. (2)

A proper analysis of this ratio would include at least three to five years of trend and cross-sectional comparison data. The cross sectional comparison can be drawn from a variety of sources. Most common are the Dun & Bradstreet Index of Key Flnancial Ratios and the Robert Morris Associates (RMA) Annual Statement Studies. Each of these volumes provide key ratios estimated for business establishments grouped according to industry (i.e., SIC codes). More will be discussed in regard to comparisons as our example is continued below.

Operating Ficiency or Asset U tion: Total Asset Turnover (TAT: Sales/Average Assets)

Turnover or efficiency ratios are important because they indicate how well the assets of a firm are used to generate sales and/or cash. While profitability is important, it doesn’t always provide the complete picture of how well a company provides a product or service. A company can be very profitable, but not too efficient. Profitability is based upon accounting measures of sales revenue and costs. Such measures are generated using the matching principle of accounting, which records revenue when earned and expenses when incurred. Hence, the gross profit margin measures the difference between sales revenue and the cost of goods actually sold during the accounting period. The goods sold may be entirely different from the goods produced during that same period. Goods produced but not sold will show up as inventory assets at the end of the year. A firm with abnormally large inventory balances is not performing effectively, and the purpose of efficiency ratios is to reveal that fact.

The total asset turnover (TAI) ratio measures the degree to which a firm generates sales with its total asset base. As in the case of net profitability, the most comprehensive measure of performance in this particular area is being employed in the DuPont ratio (other measures being fixed asset turnover, working capital turnover, inventory and receivables turnover). It is important to use average assets in the denominator to eliminate bias in the ratio calculation.

Financial ratio bias is commonly present when combining items from both the balance sheet and income statement. For example, TAT uses income statement sales in its numerator and balance sheet assets in the denominator. Income statement items are flow variables measured over a time interval, while balance sheet items are measured at a fixed point in time. In cases where the firm has been involved in major change, such as an expansion project, balance sheet measures taken at the end of the year may misrepresent the amount of assets available and/or in use over the course of the year. Taking a simple average for balance sheet items (i.e., ((beginning ending)/2)) will control for at least some of this bias and provide a more accurate and meaningful ratio. The limiting assumption is that the change in the balance sheet occurred evenly over the course of the year, which may not always be the case.

The measure of total asset turnover for Atlantic Aquatic Equipment is:

TAT = Sales/Average Assets= $5,782,000/(($2,203,200 $2,476,200)/2)= 2.47. (3)

In this case, total assets did not substantially change over the course of the year, and therefore, potential bias caused by using the ending asset amount would not be substantial. Regardless, it is a good idea to get into the habit of using averages for all balance sheet items when conducting this type of analysis.

Leverage: The Leverage Multiplier (Average Assets/Average Equity)

Leverage ratios measure the extent to which a company relies on debt financing in its capital structure. Debt is both beneficial and costly to a firm. The cost of debt is lower than the cost of equity, an effect which is enhanced by the tax deductibility of interest payments in contrast to taxable dividend payments and stock repurchases. If debt proceeds are invested in projects which return more than the cost of debt, owners keep the residual, and hence, the return on equity is “leveraged up.” The debt sword, however, cuts both ways. Adding debt creates a fixed payment required of the firm whether or not it is earning an operating profit, and therefore, payments may cut into the equity base. Further, the risk of the equity position is increased by the presence of debt holders having a superior claim to the assets of the firm.

The leverage multiplier employed in the DuPont ratio is directly related to the proportion of debt in the firm’s capital structure. The measure, which divides average assets by average equity, can be restated in two ways, as follows:

Average Assets/Average Equity = 1/(1 -(Average Debt/Average Assets)), or
Average Assets/Average Equity = 1 (Average Debt/Average Equity =1 (Average DebtlAvernge Equity). (S)

Equation (4) employs a simple debt/asset ratio, while equation (5) uses the well known debt/equity ratio. Once again, averages are used to control for potential bias caused by the end-of-year values. The leverage multiplier for Atlantic Aquatic Equipment is:

Average Assets/Average Equity = $2,339,700/(($995,652 $1,025,982)/2) = 2.31.(6)

Combination and Analysis of the Results

Once the three components have been calculated, they can be combined to form the ROE, as follows:

(Net Income/Sales)X(Sales/Average Assets)X(Average Assets)X(Average Assets/Average Equity) = ROE

1.22% X 2.47 X 2.31 = 6.96%. (7)

While additional measures for prior years would provide the basis for a necessary trend analysis, this result is not meaningful until it is compared to an industry or best practices benchmark. The DuPont ratio for the industry (Exhibit 4) is:

3.60% X 2.60 X 2.00 = 18.72% (8)

As can be seen, problems in Atlantic Aquatic Equipment are immediately evident in the comparison of equations (7) and (8). The company appears to have a significant weaknesses in profitability, while total asset turnover and leverage seem to be roughly in line with the industry. The analyst can now focus on the company’s profitability. A quick analysis of profitability yields the following result:

As can be seen, the inventory turnover is significantly lower than the industry average, which means that the problem is more likely due to poor location or inventory quality rather than the inventory management processes. The next step in the analysis would most likely be a qualitative study of the composition of the inventory as well as the retail facility itself.

Concluding Remarks

Sound financial statement analysis is an integral part of the management process for any organization. The DuPont ratio, while not the end in itself, is an excellent way to get a quick snapshot view of the overall performance of a firm in three of the four critical areas of ratio analysis, profitability, operating efficiency and leverage. By identifying strengths and/or weaknesses in any of the three areas, the DuPont analysis enables the analyst to quickly focus his or her detailed study on a particular spot, making the subsequent inquiry both easier and more meaningful. Some caveats, however, are to be noted.

The DuPont ratio consists of very general measures, drawing from the broadest values on the balance sheets and income statements (e.g., total assets is the most broad of asset measures). A DuPont study is not a replacement for detailed, comprehensive analysis. Further, there may be problems that the DuPont decomposition does not readily identify. For example, an average outcome for net profitability may mask the existence of a low gross margin combined with an abnormally high operating margin. Without looking at the two detailed measures, understanding of the true performance of the firm would be lost.

The DuPont ratio can also be broken into more components, depending upon the needs of the analyst. In any case, the DuPont can add value, even “on the fly,” to understand and solving a broad variety of business problems.

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