Should You Be Excited About Union Pacific Corporation's (NYSE:UNP) 46% Return On Equity?

By
Simply Wall St
Published
January 25, 2022
NYSE:UNP
Source: Shutterstock

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 Union Pacific Corporation (NYSE:UNP).

Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. Put another way, it reveals the company's success at turning shareholder investments into profits.

View our latest analysis for Union Pacific

How To Calculate Return On Equity?

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 Union Pacific is:

46% = US$6.5b ÷ US$14b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2021).

The 'return' is the yearly profit. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.46 in profit.

Does Union Pacific Have A Good ROE?

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. As you can see in the graphic below, Union Pacific has a higher ROE than the average (18%) in the Transportation industry.

roe
NYSE:UNP Return on Equity January 25th 2022

That's clearly a positive. However, bear in mind that a high ROE doesn’t necessarily indicate efficient profit generation. Especially when a firm uses high levels of debt to finance its debt which may boost its ROE but the high leverage puts the company at risk.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

Companies usually need to invest money 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 required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Union Pacific's Debt And Its 46% ROE

It's worth noting the high use of debt by Union Pacific, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 2.10. Its ROE is pretty impressive but, it would have probably been lower without the use of debt. 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.

Summary

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

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

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