Should We Be Cautious About HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments Limited’s (HKG:2638) ROE Of 6.3%?

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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). To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we’ll use ROE to better understand HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments Limited (HKG:2638).

Over the last twelve months HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments has recorded a ROE of 6.3%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each HK$1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made HK$0.063 in profit.

View our latest analysis for HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments:

6.3% = HK$3.1b ÷ HK$49b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

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 amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments 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. 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 HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments has a lower ROE than the average (8.9%) in the Electric Utilities industry classification.

SEHK:2638 Past Revenue and Net Income, May 11th 2019
SEHK:2638 Past Revenue and Net Income, May 11th 2019

That’s not what we like to see. We’d prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), 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 debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders’ equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments’s Debt And Its 6.3% ROE

Although HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments does use debt, its debt to equity ratio of 0.86 is still low. Although the ROE isn’t overly impressive, the debt load is modest, suggesting the business has potential. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.

The Key Takeaway

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I’d generally prefer the one with higher ROE.

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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: HK Electric Investments and HK Electric Investments 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.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

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.