Read This Before Judging United Fire Group, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:UFCS) ROE

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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). We’ll use ROE to examine United Fire Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:UFCS), by way of a worked example.

Our data shows United Fire Group has a return on equity of 2.8% for the last year. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders’ equity it has, the company made $0.028 in profit.

View our latest analysis for United Fire Group

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for United Fire Group:

2.8% = US$26m ÷ US$955m (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 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. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

What Does ROE Signify?

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. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. 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 United Fire Group Have A Good Return On Equity?

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 Fire Group has a lower ROE than the average (8.6%) in the Insurance industry.

NasdaqGS:UFCS Past Revenue and Net Income, June 7th 2019
NasdaqGS:UFCS Past Revenue and Net Income, June 7th 2019

That’s not what we like to see. We prefer it when the ROE of a company is above the industry average, but it’s not the be-all and end-all if it is lower. Nonetheless, it might be wise to check if insiders have been selling.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

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. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Combining United Fire Group’s Debt And Its 2.8% Return On Equity

While United Fire Group does have a tiny amount of debt, with debt to equity of just 0.021, we think the use of debt is very modest. Its ROE is quite low, and the company already has some debt, so surely shareholders are hoping for an improvement. 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.

In Summary

Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. 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 when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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 I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

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.