Why The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc (NYSE:HIG) Delivered An Inferior ROE Compared To The Industry

This analysis is intended to introduce important early concepts to people who are starting to invest and want to begin learning the link between company’s fundamentals and stock market performance.

The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc’s (NYSE:HIG) most recent return on equity was a substandard 3.58% relative to its industry performance of 9.40% over the past year. HIG’s results could indicate a relatively inefficient operation to its peers, and while this may be the case, it is important to understand what ROE is made up of and how it should be interpreted. Knowing these components could change your view on HIG’s performance. Today I will look at how components such as financial leverage can influence ROE which may impact the sustainability of HIG’s returns.

Check out our latest analysis for Hartford Financial Services Group

Breaking down ROE — the mother of all ratios

Return on Equity (ROE) is a measure of Hartford Financial Services Group’s profit relative to its shareholders’ equity. It essentially shows how much the company can generate in earnings given the amount of equity it has raised. Investors seeking to maximise their return in the Multi-line Insurance industry may want to choose the highest returning stock. But this can be misleading as each company has different costs of equity and also varying debt levels, which could artificially push up ROE whilst accumulating high interest expense.

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders Equity

ROE is assessed against cost of equity, which is measured using the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM) – but let’s not dive into the details of that today. For now, let’s just look at the cost of equity number for Hartford Financial Services Group, which is 8.82%. Given a discrepancy of -5.24% between return and cost, this indicated that Hartford Financial Services Group may be paying more for its capital than what it’s generating in return. ROE can be split up into three useful ratios: net profit margin, asset turnover, and financial leverage. This is called the Dupont Formula:

Dupont Formula

ROE = profit margin × asset turnover × financial leverage

ROE = (annual net profit ÷ sales) × (sales ÷ assets) × (assets ÷ shareholders’ equity)

ROE = annual net profit ÷ shareholders’ equity

NYSE:HIG Last Perf August 14th 18
NYSE:HIG Last Perf August 14th 18

Essentially, profit margin shows how much money the company makes after paying for all its expenses. The other component, asset turnover, illustrates how much revenue Hartford Financial Services Group can make from its asset base. The most interesting ratio, and reflective of sustainability of its ROE, is financial leverage. We can assess whether Hartford Financial Services Group is fuelling ROE by excessively raising debt. Ideally, Hartford Financial Services Group should have a balanced capital structure, which we can check by looking at the historic debt-to-equity ratio of the company. The ratio currently stands at a sensible 39.05%, meaning Hartford Financial Services Group has not taken on excessive debt to drive its returns. The company is able to produce profit growth without a huge debt burden and still has headroom to grow returns to industry average.

NYSE:HIG Historical Debt August 14th 18
NYSE:HIG Historical Debt August 14th 18

Next Steps:

ROE is a simple yet informative ratio, illustrating the various components that each measure the quality of the overall stock. Hartford Financial Services Group’s ROE is underwhelming relative to the industry average, and its returns were also not strong enough to cover its own cost of equity. However, ROE is not likely to be inflated by excessive debt funding, giving shareholders more conviction in the sustainability of returns, which has headroom to increase further. ROE is a helpful signal, but it is definitely not sufficient on its own to make an investment decision.

For Hartford Financial Services Group, I’ve compiled three essential factors you should further research:

  1. Financial Health: Does it have a healthy balance sheet? Take a look at our free balance sheet analysis with six simple checks on key factors like leverage and risk.
  2. Valuation: What is Hartford Financial Services Group worth today? Is the stock undervalued, even when its growth outlook is factored into its intrinsic value? The intrinsic value infographic in our free research report helps visualize whether Hartford Financial Services Group is currently mispriced by the market.
  3. Other High-Growth Alternatives : Are there other high-growth stocks you could be holding instead of Hartford Financial Services Group? Explore our interactive list of stocks with large growth potential to get an idea of what else is out there you may be missing!

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.