How to Calculate Return on Assets (ROA) with Examples

Return on Assets definition, formula, examples

What is return on assets (ROA)?

Return on assets (ROA) is a financial ratio that calculates the profitability of a business in relation to its total assets. This ratio is often used to assess how effectively a company is using its assets to generate profit.

A higher ROA typically indicates that a company is using its assets more efficiently to generate profits. Conversely, a lower ROA suggests that a company is not making good use of its assets to produce income. However, it is essential to compare ROA values within the same industry, as different industries have different capital requirements and business models that can affect ROA.

Understanding the significance of return on assets (ROA)

Return on assets (ROA) serves as a critical metric for various stakeholders, including investors, analysts, and company management. The metric offers comprehensive insights into a company’s financial health by assessing its operational efficiency and profitability in relation to its assets.

Operational efficiency and profitability

A high ROA typically indicates efficient asset utilization, allowing a company to generate higher profits with fewer assets. This is generally a positive signal for both management and potential investors. On the other hand, a low ROA may suggest poor asset utilization and a need for operational improvements.

Industry context matters

It’s essential to contextualize ROA within industry norms and benchmarks. ROA can vary significantly between industries due to different asset structures and operational requirements. Comparing a company’s ROA with industry averages or direct competitors provides a more nuanced understanding of its performance.

Risk assessment

A declining or stagnant ROA may indicate potential financial risks, such as liquidity issues or challenges in meeting financial obligations. Monitoring ROA trends can be instrumental in identifying these risks early on.

Investment considerations

For investors, a high ROA is an attractive quality, often indicating a competitive advantage. It serves as an essential consideration in evaluating the prospects of potential investments.

Internal goal-setting and strategy

Businesses often use ROA as an internal performance benchmark. If a company’s ROA falls below industry standards or shows a declining trend, it might prompt a re-evaluation of business strategies and asset management practices.

Financing implications

A high ROA can influence a company’s financing decisions. For instance, a company may prefer to use its own funds for asset investment to avoid diluting the ROA with increased liabilities from external borrowings.

By offering insights into profitability, efficiency, risk levels, investment quality, and even strategic planning, ROA proves to be a multi-dimensional tool for assessing a company’s overall performance and financial health.

Return on assets formula


The formula for calculating return on assets (ROA) is straightforward:

ROA = Net Income / Average Total Assets

In this formula:

  • Net income refers to the profit that a company has earned after all expenses, taxes, and costs have been deducted. It is usually reported on the income statement.
  • Average total assets is calculated by taking the average of the total assets at the beginning and end of the period in question. Total assets are typically found on a company’s balance sheet.

By using these numbers in the formula, you can find out how efficiently a company is using its assets to generate profit.

Example of ROA

ROA is most useful when comparing companies within the same industry, as different industries utilize assets in varied ways. In this case, let’s examine the ROA for three fictional companies in the financial service industry:

  • Company A
  • Company B
  • Company C

The data in the table is hypothetical and represents figures for the trailing 12 months (TTM).

Financial service industry stocks

Company Net Income Total Assets ROA
Company A $10 million $100 million 10%
Company B $8 million $60 million 13.3%
Company C $5 million $55 million 9.1%

In this example, for each dollar invested in assets, Company B generated 13.3 cents of net income. This suggests that Company B is more efficient at converting its assets into profits compared to Companies A and C. Therefore, the management of Company B, within this hypothetical context, appears to be more effective at asset utilization.

What is a good ROA?

The answer to what constitutes a “good” ROA can vary depending on the industry, the economic environment, and the company’s stage in its life cycle. Generally, a higher ROA is preferable as it indicates that the company is more efficiently converting its assets into profits.

Here are some general guidelines to consider when evaluating ROA:

  • Industry standards: ROA values can differ widely across industries. For instance, technology companies may have a higher ROA because they require fewer physical assets. On the other hand, manufacturing or utility companies, which are capital-intensive, may have lower ROAs.
  • Historical comparison: A company’s past ROA figures can offer insights into its efficiency over time. If ROA is improving, it’s a good sign that the company is becoming more efficient at generating profit from its assets.
  • Competitive benchmark: It’s also useful to compare a company’s ROA with that of other companies in the same industry. This can give an idea of how well the company is performing in relation to its competitors.

Typically, an ROA greater than 5% is considered good, but this is just a general rule of thumb. The most important thing is to look at ROA in the context of the specific company and industry.


Return on assets (ROA) vs. Return on equity (ROE)

Both ROA and return on equity (ROE) are key profitability ratios, but they focus on different aspects of a company’s financial performance.

  • Return on assets (ROA): As we’ve discussed, ROA measures how efficiently a company is using its assets to generate profits. It includes all assets—both debt and equity financed.
  • Return on equity (ROE): This measures how effectively a company is using its shareholders’ equity to generate profits. The formula for ROE is Net Income / Average Shareholders’ Equity.

Here are some key differences between the two:

  1. Scope of investment: ROE only considers the equity portion of the financing, whereas ROA takes into account all assets, including those financed by debt.
  2. Risk implications: A high ROE could be achieved by taking on more debt, which increases financial risk. A high ROA, on the other hand, is generally a sign of operational efficiency regardless of the financial structure.
  3. Comparability: ROA is often more useful for comparing companies across industries because it considers all assets. ROE is more relevant when comparing companies within the same industry, where the financial structures are likely to be similar.

Understanding both ROA and ROE can provide a more rounded view of a company’s financial performance. While ROA gives you an idea of operational efficiency, ROE gives insights into financial structuring and shareholder returns.

Limitations of ROA

While return on assets (ROA) is a useful metric for assessing the efficiency of a company in generating profits from its assets, it’s important to recognize its limitations:

  1. Not industry-specific: ROA can be misleading when comparing companies across different industries. Industries have varying asset structures and profit margins, which can skew comparisons.
  2. Short-term fluctuations: ROA can be influenced by short-term changes in net income or assets, making it less reliable for long-term investment decisions.
  3. Ignoring quality of assets: ROA doesn’t take into account the age or condition of assets. Older assets that are fully depreciated will lead to a higher ROA, which may not reflect the actual efficiency of these assets.
  4. Non-financial factors: ROA doesn’t consider qualitative aspects like brand reputation, employee satisfaction, or customer loyalty, which can have long-term effects on profitability.
  5. Accounting practices: Different companies may use different accounting methods for depreciation, inventory valuation, or recognition of intangible assets, which can impact the calculation of total assets and, in turn, ROA.

How investors use ROA

Investors often use ROA to gauge the profitability and efficiency of a company’s operations in relation to its assets. Here are some ways investors might use ROA:

  1. Portfolio screening: Investors may use ROA as one of the criteria for screening potential investments, often alongside other metrics like ROE, P/E ratios, and dividend yields.
  2. Benchmarking: ROA can serve as a useful benchmark against industry averages or direct competitors. A company that consistently outperforms its industry or competitors in terms of ROA is often viewed as more efficient.
  3. Risk assessment: A declining ROA over multiple periods could be a red flag, indicating that a company is becoming less efficient at generating profits from its assets or that it might be taking on too much debt.
  4. Trend analysis: Investors often look at how ROA is trending over time as an indicator of operational efficiency and management effectiveness.
  5. Asset utilization: ROA can provide insights into how well a company is utilizing its assets. For example, a low ROA may suggest that assets are not being used effectively and could be better deployed or sold off.

By understanding both the utility and limitations of ROA, investors can make more informed decisions.


Final thoughts

Understanding return on assets (ROA) is more than just a financial necessity; it’s a strategic imperative for businesses aiming for long-term sustainability and growth. This key metric provides a comprehensive view of your company’s efficiency and profitability, informing crucial business decisions and helping to identify areas for improvement.

Ready to take control of your company’s financial future? Brixx offers comprehensive financial forecasting tools to help you track important metrics like ROA, so you can make data-driven decisions for your business. Start your free trial today and empower your business with the insights you need for long-term success.

FAQs about return on assets

Can ROA be negative?

Yes, ROA can be negative, which generally indicates that a company is not making a profit and is not using its assets efficiently. A negative ROA could be a sign of operational or financial difficulties that require further investigation.

How often should ROA be calculated?

The frequency can vary depending on the needs of the analysts or investors but is commonly calculated on a quarterly or annual basis.

How do you improve ROA?

Improving ROA generally involves either increasing net income or more efficiently using assets. This could be achieved by boosting sales, reducing costs, or optimizing asset utilization. Companies may also opt to sell off underperforming assets to improve ROA.

By addressing these frequently asked questions, you can gain a more thorough understanding of ROA and how to interpret it, both as an investor and as a manager aiming to improve a company’s financial performance.

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