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A Closer Look At NRG Energy, Inc.'s (NYSE:NRG) Impressive 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 NRG Energy, Inc. (NYSE:NRG), 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 other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

Check out our latest analysis for NRG Energy

How Is ROE Calculated?

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 NRG Energy is:

61% = US$2.2b ÷ US$3.6b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2021).

The 'return' is the income the business earned over the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated $0.61 in profit.

Does NRG Energy 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. Pleasingly, NRG Energy has a superior ROE than the average (9.6%) in the Electric Utilities industry.

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That's what we like to see. Bear in mind, a high ROE doesn't always mean superior financial performance. 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 . To know the 3 risks we have identified for NRG Energy visit our risks dashboard for free.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow 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 NRG Energy's Debt And Its 61% Return On Equity

It's worth noting the high use of debt by NRG Energy, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 2.21. While no doubt that its ROE is impressive, we would have been even more impressed had the company achieved this with lower debt. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.

Conclusion

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. 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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: NRG Energy 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.

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.