How Does Career Education Really Boost Its Returns?

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As investors, we need to understand how our companies truly make their money. A neat trick developed for just that purpose -- the DuPont formula -- can help us do so.

The DuPont formula can give you a better grasp on exactly where your company is producing its profit, and where it might have a competitive advantage. Named after the company where it was pioneered, the formula breaks down return on equity into three components:

Return on equity = net margin x asset turnover x leverage ratio

What makes each of these components important?

  • High net margins show that a company can get customers to pay more for its products. Luxury-goods companies provide a great example here.
  • High asset turnover indicates that a company needs to invest less of its capital, since it uses its assets more efficiently to generate sales. Service industries, for instance, often lack big capital investments.
  • Finally, the leverage ratio shows how much the company is relying on liabilities to create its profits.

Generally, the higher these numbers, the better. That said, too much debt can sink a company, so beware of companies with very high leverage ratios.

Let's see what the DuPont formula can tell us about Career Education (NAS: CECO) and a few of its sector and industry peers:

Company

Return on Equity

Net Margin

Asset Turnover

Leverage Ratio

Career Education

18.9%

7.9%

1.45

1.59

DeVry (NYS: DV)

25.6%

15.1%

1.25

1.35

American Public Education (NAS: APEI)

30.5%

14.3%

1.53

1.39

ITT Educational Services (NYS: ESI)

296.0%

22.4%

2.42

5.44

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

The returns on equity range from solid to spectacular, with these for-profit educators putting up strong performances in margins and asset turnover. While Career Education's ROE is at the bottom of the pack here, it's still a solid performer without using significant leverage. DeVry's fatter margin drives ROE higher, and it looks very similar to American Public. ITT leads th is group in margin, asset turnover, and leverage -- making its ROE look truly gaudy.

Using the DuPont formula can often give you some insight into how a company is competing against peers and what type of strategy it's using to juice return on equity. To find more successful investments, dig deeper than the earnings headlines. If you'd like to add these companies to your watchlist, click on any of the links below:

At the time this article was published Jim Royal, Ph.D.,does not own shares in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of American Public Education. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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