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Boasting A 12% Return On Equity, Is Highwoods Properties, Inc. (NYSE:HIW) A Top Quality Stock?

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While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. We'll use ROE to examine Highwoods Properties, Inc. (NYSE:HIW), by way of a worked example.

Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. In short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.

See our latest analysis for Highwoods Properties

How Do You 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 Highwoods Properties is:

12% = US$323m ÷ US$2.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2021).

The 'return' is the income the business earned over the last year. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn $0.12 in profit.

Does Highwoods Properties 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. As is clear from the image below, Highwoods Properties has a better ROE than the average (6.6%) in the REITs industry.

roe
roe

That's what we like to see. With that said, a high ROE doesn't always indicate high profitability. A higher proportion of debt in a company's capital structure may also result in a high ROE, where the high debt levels could be a huge risk . Our risks dashboardshould have the 3 risks we have identified for Highwoods Properties.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. 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.

Combining Highwoods Properties' Debt And Its 12% Return On Equity

It's worth noting the high use of debt by Highwoods Properties, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.07. While its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit as to how much debt a company can use. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.

Summary

Return on equity is one way we can compare its 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 around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

Of course Highwoods Properties 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.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.