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All you need to know about the plowback ratio

If the dividend ratio is 20 per cent of net profits, then the plowback ratio will logically be 80 per cent.

Ketan Shah  |  Mumbai 

Ploughing back profits is the exact opposite of paying out dividends. When a company makes net profits, a portion of the net profits is paid out to the shareholders in the form of dividends. After the dividends are paid, the residual profits are transferred to the reserves and surplus in the balance sheet of the company and the equity of the company goes up proportionately. Such free reserves can be used at a future date to reward shareholders with bonus shares, which is a common practice. If the ratio is 20 per cent of net profits, then the ratio will logically be 80 per cent. Of course, if there are preference shares to be paid then the plow back will be lower. But for the sake of simplicity let us assume that there are no preference shares.

Understanding the Plough back for Alpha Ltd and Beta Ltd

Alpha Ltd Amount Beta Ltd Amount
Total Equity Rs.10,00,00,000 Total Equity Rs.10,00,00,000
Net Profits 2017-18 Rs.3,30,00,000 Net Profits 2017-18 Rs.3,30,00,000
Paid Rs.66,00,000 Dividend Paid Rs.33,00,000
Dividend Ratio 20% Dividend Ratio 10%
Plough Back Ratio 80% Plough Back Ratio 90%
Market Capitalization Rs.52.80 Crore Market Capitalization Rs.85.80 Crore
P/E Ratio 16X P/E Ratio 26X

In the above instance, there are two companies with the same equity base and the same net profit earned in the last financial year 2017-18. That means both the companies also have the same (ROE)

ROE = Net Profit / Total Equity

ROE of Alpha = 3.30 crore / 10 crore = 33%

ROE of Beta = 3.30 crore / 10 crore = 33%

While both the companies have the same ROE and similar net profits, they differ in the way they pay out dividends. For example, Alpha pays out 20 per cent of its profits as dividends and ploughs back 80 per cent of profits. On the other hand, Beta pays out just 10 per cent of its profits as dividends and ploughs back 90 per cent of its profits into its reserves.

What is really significant is that Alpha quotes at a P/E ratio of 16X while Beta quotes at a P/E Ratio of 26X. Why this vast difference in the P/E? The answer is the management strategy of Beta to retain more profits within the company than paying out to shareholders. But that sounds counter-intuitive, right?

Typically, when you pay higher dividends, investors should be happy and give you a higher valuation. Then why is it that the company that is ploughing back more profits rather than paying to shareholders is getting better valuations. For that, we need to understand why dividend-paying companies normally get weaker valuations in the market?

Why the market does not reward high dividend paying companies?

Look at some of the best dividend yield companies in the market like IOC, HPCL, BPCL, NALCO etc. All these have attractive dividend yields but they still quote at single digit valuations. There are three reasons for this phenomenon.

  • Dividends paid out are seen as partial liquidation of the assets of a company. Most investors buy stocks for creating long-term wealth and not for regular dividends. There are some people who look at high dividend yield stocks for regular income but they are a minority. Most shareholders look at high dividends negatively.
  • Secondly, high dividend payouts are seen as a signal that the company does not have sufficient investment and expansion opportunities. That means; the company is gradually becoming a cash cow and investors are not really interested in cash cows. They want growth and liberal dividend payers are not high growth companies.
  • When a company declares dividends, it is seen as an attempt to not expand the net worth too much so as to keep the ROE at attractive levels. On the other hand, a company that ploughs back more profits displays the confidence that its business can earn sustain higher ROE even on a higher net worth. That is what gives Beta Ltd a better P/E ratio in the market compared to Alpha.

How to interpret the role of plough back in the case of Alpha and Beta

As can be seen, both the companies Alpha and Beta are having a healthy ROE of 33%. At that rate of ROE, investors would typically expect the companies to reinvest the profits in the company and sustain the ROE on a higher net worth. By paying dividends the investor has only one question. Why should I take dividends when I cannot reinvest the money at the rate of 33 per cent? Instead, I would be a lot happier if the company reinvested a bigger chunk of profits back in the business considering that the ROE of the business is so attractive.

What Beta has done here is to deliberately focus on greater plough back of profits so as to create wealth for shareholders by applying its ROE on the ploughed back profits rather than payout out as dividends. It is this confidence of Beta that the market is rewarding in the form of a higher P/E ratio. That is why ploughing back profits become so critical from the shareholder wealth point of view.


Disclaimer: The above opinion is that of Mr. Ketan Shah (Chief Revenue Officer - Angel Broking) and is for reference only.

First Published: Tue, March 26 2019. 06:15 IST