Stock Analysis

Should We Be Delighted With United Utilities Group PLC's (LON:UU.) ROE Of 16%?

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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). By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of United Utilities Group PLC (LON:UU.).

ROE or return on equity is a useful tool to assess how effectively a company can generate returns on the investment it received from its shareholders. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

See our latest analysis for United Utilities Group

How To Calculate Return On Equity?

ROE 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 United Utilities Group is:

16% = UK£512m ÷ UK£3.1b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2022).

The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. So, this means that for every £1 of its shareholder's investments, the company generates a profit of £0.16.

Does United Utilities Group Have A Good ROE?

By comparing a company's ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, United Utilities Group has a better ROE than the average (2.9%) in the Water Utilities industry.

roe
LSE:UU. Return on Equity November 25th 2022

That's clearly a positive. 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. Our risks dashboardshould have the 3 risks we have identified for United Utilities Group.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

Most companies need money -- from somewhere -- to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. 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 used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

United Utilities Group's Debt And Its 16% ROE

It's worth noting the high use of debt by United Utilities Group, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 2.63. There's no doubt its ROE is decent, but the very high debt the company carries is not too exciting to see. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

Conclusion

Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

Having said that, while ROE is a useful indicator of business quality, you'll have to look at a whole range of factors to determine the right price to buy a stock. 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 United Utilities Group 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.

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