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Should We Be Cautious About Fortis Inc.'s (TSE:FTS) ROE Of 6.8%?

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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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Fortis Inc. (TSE:FTS).

Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

View our latest analysis for Fortis

How Is ROE Calculated?

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 Fortis is:

6.8% = CA$1.4b ÷ CA$21b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2020).

The 'return' is the yearly profit. One way to conceptualize this is that for each CA$1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made CA$0.07 in profit.

Does Fortis Have A Good ROE?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for 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 Fortis has a lower ROE than the average (9.6%) in the Electric Utilities industry classification.

roe
roe

That's not what we like to see. That being said, a low ROE is not always a bad thing, especially if the company has low leverage as this still leaves room for improvement if the company were to take on more debt. A high debt company having a low ROE is a different story altogether and a risky investment in our books.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Fortis' Debt And Its 6.8% ROE

Fortis clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.20. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. 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. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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.

But note: Fortis 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.

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. 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.

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