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. We'll use ROE to examine National Fuel Gas Company (NYSE:NFG), 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 simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder's equity.
How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?
Return on equity 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 National Fuel Gas is:
27% = US$566m ÷ US$2.1b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2022).
The 'return' refers to a company's earnings over the last year. So, this means that for every $1 of its shareholder's investments, the company generates a profit of $0.27.
Does National Fuel Gas Have A Good ROE?
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, National Fuel Gas has a better ROE than the average (8.8%) in the Gas Utilities industry.
That's what we like to see. With that said, a high ROE doesn't always indicate high profitability. A higher proportion of debt in a company's capital structure may also result in a high ROE, where the high debt levels could be a huge risk . To know the 2 risks we have identified for National Fuel Gas visit our risks dashboard for free.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Companies usually need to invest money 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
National Fuel Gas' Debt And Its 27% ROE
It's worth noting the high use of debt by National Fuel Gas, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.29. There's no doubt the ROE is impressive, but it's worth keeping in mind that the metric could have been lower if the company were to reduce its debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
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. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.
But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst 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.
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.
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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