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. By way of learning-by-doing, we’ll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Enel SpA (BIT:ENEL).
Over the last twelve months Enel has recorded a ROE of 8.1%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each €1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made €0.08 in profit.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for ROE is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity
Or for Enel:
8.1% = €2.6b ÷ €48b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)
Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. The easiest way to calculate shareholders’ equity is to subtract the company’s total liabilities from the total assets.
What Does Return On Equity Mean?
Return on Equity measures a company’s profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The ‘return’ is the profit over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Enel 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see Enel has a similar ROE to the average in the Electric Utilities industry classification (7.9%).
That’s not overly surprising. ROE tells us about the quality of the business, but it does not give us much of an idea if the share price is cheap. I will like Enel better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. 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.
Combining Enel’s Debt And Its 8.1% Return On Equity
Enel does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.28. While the ROE isn’t too bad, it would probably be a lot lower if the company was forced to reduce debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it’s only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
The Key Takeaway
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. 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.
Of course Enel 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 email@example.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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