Return On Assets

This ratio indicates how profitable a company is relative to its total assets. The return on assets (ROA) ratio illustrates how well management is employing the company's total assets to make a profit. The higher the return, the more efficient management is in utilizing its asset base. The ROA ratio is calculated by comparing net income to average total assets, and is expressed as a percentage.



As of December 31, 2005, with amounts expressed in millions, Zimmer Holdings had net income of $732.50 (income statement), and average total assets of $5,708.70 (balance sheet). By dividing, the equation gives us an ROA of 12.8% for FY 2005.

Variations:Some investment analysts use the operating-income figure instead of the net-income figure when calculating the ROA ratio.

Commentary: The need for investment in current and non-current assets varies greatly among companies. Capital-intensive businesses (with a large investment in fixed assets) are going to be more asset heavy than technology or service businesses.

In the case of capital-intensive businesses, which have to carry a relatively large asset base, will calculate their ROA based on a large number in the denominator of this ratio. Conversely, non-capital-intensive businesses (with a small investment in fixed assets) will be generally favored with a relatively high ROA because of a low denominator number.

It is precisely because businesses require different-sized asset bases that investors need to think about how they use the ROA ratio. For the most part, the ROA measurement should be used historically for the company being analyzed. If peer company comparisons are made, it is imperative that the companies being reviewed are similar in product line and business type. Simply being categorized in the same industry will not automatically make a company comparable. Illustrations (as of FY 2005) of the variability of the ROA ratio can be found in such companies as General Electric, 2.3%; Proctor & Gamble, 8.8%; and Microsoft, 18.0%.

As a rule of thumb, investment professionals like to see a company's ROA come in at no less than 5%. Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. An important one would apply to banks, which strive to record an ROA of 1.5% or above.

By Richard Loth