A Holistic View of ROA

By Motley Fool StaffMarketsFool.com

Return on assets is a fundamental metric that you must understand in order to assess a bank's health, but it doesn't stand alone. Looking at leverage, ROA, and the assets themselves helps give a more complete picture of what's going on with a bank.

In this segment ofIndustry Focus:Financials,Joe Magyer, the chief investment officer of Lakehouse Capital, joins Gaby Lapera to talk about banking metrics. He reminds listeners not to miss the forest for the trees when evaluating banks. One of the metrics that people frequently gloss over is leverage. Watch to learn about leverage, why it's important, and how to interpret it.

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A full transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on Sept. 15, 2016.

Gaby Lapera: I feel like we've covered leveragepretty well. Do you want to talk a little bit aboutreturn on assets?

Joe Magyer:Yeah. Leverage can mask bad operations. Return on assets ishow much you'regoing down in profitagainst your actual assets. That's more ofa pound-for-pound versionof how your back is doing. Historically, you'll see banks dosomething between 1%-1.5%. Before the GFC, you saw some banks,particularly Irish banks, hadnumbers that were just mind-blowing. I want to say they were above 2%, just from memory. I remember looking at them and thinking -- without accusing that anything was wrong,it just seemed unnatural. It was extremely unnatural,that turned out to be the case. What you usually see is, a strong bank will have cross-cycle returns. So, say, over a period of 10 years, an average return on assets of maybe 1.5. A bad bank will be south of one. Banks that are south of one willtypically sell at lower multiples than the ones that are higher,because they're not as good of a business. Wells Fargo has historically beenon the higher end of that.Citigrouphas historically been on the lower end of that.

Lapera:One thing that ourlisteners might not realizebecause it's not the most intuitive thing is that a bank's assets are its loans out to people. It's aconfusing thing, because for most people, a loan is not an asset. But it is for banks. Which is why,when you take leverage and assetsall together,it gives you a more complete picture of a bank than justlooking at return on equity would.

Magyer:And there areother things you can do if you want to double-click a little bit and here. You can look at the makeup of,digging into the assets, what kind of loans are made. If they'rebusiness loans, that's going to be higher risk,traditionally, than residentialmortgages.

Lapera:Andeven with residential mortgages, there's a bunch of different types.New York Community Bankspecializes in multifamilyresidences, which is apartment buildings, basically, inNew York City, which is a very safe real estate market,versus maybe someone who is sellingsingle-family homes near an oil fieldin Texas.

Magyer:That's a great point. To flash anAustralian example, the requirements have changed recently, but up until recently, a bank couldmake a loan on a residential mortgage. Historically, properties have done very well as an investment class in Australia. The bank would only holdas little as 3%of capital against that loan. So, they would be levered 33:1 on thatmortgage. The logic is the same that U.S. banks had before they got their face crushed, which was, "Well,people always pay their mortgages, and there's collateral in the assets, so we're backed up there. There's mortgageinsurance, so you don't have to worryabout that. And just becauseone person's mortgage goes south, someone across the country,that doesn't mean that could happen to them."I think we all learned that that's not necessarily the case. Australian banks have notlearned that lesson. They will, eventually. I don't know when.

Gaby Lapera has no position in any stocks mentioned. Joe Magyer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool has the following options: short October 2016 $50 calls on Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.