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One of the best investments we can make is in our own knowledge and skill set. With that in mind, this article will work through how we can use Return On Equity (ROE) to better understand a business. We'll use ROE to examine FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE:FE), by way of a worked example.
Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.
How Is ROE Calculated?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for FirstEnergy is:
14% = US$1.1b ÷ US$7.4b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2021).
The 'return' is the yearly profit. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.14 in profit.
Does FirstEnergy Have A Good Return On Equity?
Arguably the easiest way to assess company's ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As you can see in the graphic below, FirstEnergy has a higher ROE than the average (10%) in the Electric Utilities industry.
That's what we like to see. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. Aside from changes in net income, a high ROE can also be the outcome of high debt relative to equity, which indicates risk. You can see the 2 risks we have identified for FirstEnergy by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.
How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Combining FirstEnergy's Debt And Its 14% Return On Equity
It appears that FirstEnergy makes extensive use of debt to improve its returns, because it has an alarmingly high debt to equity ratio of 3.26. Its ROE is pretty good, but given the impact of the debt, we're less than enthused, overall.
Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. The rate at which profits are likely to grow, relative to the expectations of profit growth reflected in the current price, must be considered, too. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
But note: FirstEnergy may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with high ROE and low debt.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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