Should You Be Excited About Principal Financial Group, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:PFG) 11% Return On Equity?

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 Principal Financial Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:PFG), by way of a worked example.

Principal Financial Group has a ROE of 11%, based on the last twelve months. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders’ equity, it generated $0.11 in profit.

See our latest analysis for Principal Financial Group

How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Principal Financial Group:

11% = US$1.5b ÷ US$14b (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. 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 ROE Mean?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. 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. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does Principal Financial Group Have A Good ROE?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for 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, Principal Financial Group has a better ROE than the average (8.7%) in the Insurance industry.

NasdaqGS:PFG Past Revenue and Net Income, August 5th 2019
NasdaqGS:PFG Past Revenue and Net Income, August 5th 2019

That is a good sign. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares .

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. 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.

Combining Principal Financial Group’s Debt And Its 11% Return On Equity

While Principal Financial Group does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.27, we wouldn’t say debt is excessive. Although the ROE isn’t overly impressive, the debt load is modest, suggesting the business has potential. Careful use of debt to boost returns is often very good for shareholders. However, it could reduce the company’s ability to take advantage of future opportunities.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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 take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

But note: Principal Financial Group 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.

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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. Thank you for reading.