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 Northland Power Inc. (TSE:NPI), 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 short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
ROE can be calculated by using the formula:
Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity
So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Northland Power is:
27% = CA$519m ÷ CA$2.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).
The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each CA$1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made CA$0.27 in profit.
Does Northland Power Have A Good Return On Equity?
One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. Pleasingly, Northland Power has a superior ROE than the average (8.4%) in the Renewable Energy industry.
That's what we like to see. However, bear in mind that a high ROE doesn’t necessarily indicate efficient profit generation. Especially when a firm uses high levels of debt to finance its debt which may boost its ROE but the high leverage puts the company at risk. To know the 5 risks we have identified for Northland Power visit our risks dashboard for free.
The Importance Of Debt To 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 two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Northland Power's Debt And Its 27% Return On Equity
It appears that Northland Power makes extensive use of debt to improve its returns, because it has an alarmingly high debt to equity ratio of 4.22. While its ROE is no doubt quite impressive, it could give a false impression about the company's returns given that its huge debt could be boosting those returns.
Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.
Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.
Of course Northland Power may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. 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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