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Should You Be Worried About Harsco Corporation's (NYSE:HSC) 1.1% Return On Equity?

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While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Harsco Corporation (NYSE:HSC).

Return on equity or ROE is a key measure used to assess how efficiently a company's management is utilizing the company's capital. Simply put, it is used to assess the profitability of a company in relation to its equity capital.

View our latest analysis for Harsco

How Is ROE Calculated?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Harsco is:

1.1% = US$8.2m ÷ US$749m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2021).

The 'return' is the yearly profit. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.01 in profit.

Does Harsco 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. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Harsco has a lower ROE than the average (11%) in the Commercial Services industry.

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That's not what we like to see. However, a low ROE is not always bad. If the company's debt levels are moderate to low, then there's still a chance that returns can be improved via the use of financial leverage. A company with high debt levels and low ROE is a combination we like to avoid given the risk involved. You can see the 3 risks we have identified for Harsco by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Harsco's Debt And Its 1.1% ROE

Harsco clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.79. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

Conclusion

Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

If you would prefer check out another company -- one with potentially superior financials -- then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity 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.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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