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Does The Southern Company (NYSE:SO) Create Value For Shareholders?

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  • SO

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 The Southern Company (NYSE:SO).

ROE or return on equity is a useful tool to assess how effectively a company can generate returns on the investment it received from its shareholders. 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 Southern

How Is ROE Calculated?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit (from continuing operations) ÷ Shareholders' Equity

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Southern is:

8.8% = US$2.9b ÷ US$34b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2021).

The 'return' is the profit over the last twelve months. One way to conceptualize this is that for each $1 of shareholders' capital it has, the company made $0.09 in profit.

Does Southern 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. You can see in the graphic below that Southern has an ROE that is fairly close to the average for the Electric Utilities industry (9.5%).

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So while the ROE is not exceptional, at least its acceptable. While at least the ROE is not lower than the industry, its still worth checking what role the company's debt plays as high debt levels relative to equity may also make the ROE appear high. If true, then it is more an indication of risk than the potential. You can see the 3 risks we have identified for Southern by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. That cash can come from retained earnings, issuing new shares (equity), 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. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Southern's Debt And Its 8.8% ROE

Southern clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.58. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it's hard to get excited about this business at the moment. 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.

Conclusion

Return on equity is one way we can compare its business quality of different companies. In our books, the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

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. 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 you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

If you would prefer check out another company -- one with potentially superior financials -- then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.

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.

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