Is WPX Energy, Inc.’s (NYSE:WPX) 16% ROE Better Than Average?

Many investors are still learning about the various metrics that can be useful when analysing a stock. This article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand WPX Energy, Inc. (NYSE:WPX).

Over the last twelve months WPX Energy has recorded a ROE of 16%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.16 in profit.

View our latest analysis for WPX Energy

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

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

Or for WPX Energy:

16% = US$732m ÷ US$4.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Most know that net profit is the total earnings after all expenses, but the concept of shareholders’ equity is a little more complicated. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. You can calculate shareholders’ equity by subtracting the company’s total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does Return On Equity Signify?

ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the yearly profit. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does WPX Energy 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, WPX Energy has a better ROE than the average (12%) in the Oil and Gas industry.

NYSE:WPX Past Revenue and Net Income, February 11th 2020
NYSE:WPX Past Revenue and Net Income, February 11th 2020

That’s clearly a positive. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. One data point to check is if insiders have bought shares recently.

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 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.

WPX Energy’s Debt And Its 16% ROE

While WPX Energy does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.47, we wouldn’t say debt is excessive. Its very respectable ROE, combined with only modest debt, suggests the business is in good shape. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.

But It’s Just One Metric

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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. 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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course WPX Energy 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.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned.

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