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 Northland Power Inc. (TSE:NPI), by way of a worked example.
Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. In simpler terms, it measures the profitability of a company in relation to shareholder's equity.
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 Northland Power is:
27% = CA$519m ÷ CA$2.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).
The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each CA$1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made CA$0.27 in profit.
Does Northland Power Have A Good Return On Equity?
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 you can see in the graphic below, Northland Power has a higher ROE than the average (8.4%) in the Renewable Energy industry.
That's what we like to see. However, bear in mind that a high ROE doesn’t necessarily indicate efficient profit generation. Aside from changes in net income, a high ROE can also be the outcome of high debt relative to equity, which indicates risk. To know the 5 risks we have identified for Northland Power visit our risks dashboard for free.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.
Combining Northland Power's Debt And Its 27% Return On Equity
It seems that Northland Power uses a huge volume of debt to fund the business, since it has an extremely high debt to equity ratio of 4.22. While its ROE is no doubt quite impressive, it could give a false impression about the company's returns given that its huge debt could be boosting those returns.
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. 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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. 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.
If you decide to trade Northland Power, use the lowest-cost* platform that is rated #1 Overall by Barron’s, Interactive Brokers. Trade stocks, options, futures, forex, bonds and funds on 135 markets, all from a single integrated account.
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. 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.
*Interactive Brokers Rated Lowest Cost Broker by StockBrokers.com Annual Online Review 2020
Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.