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Should You Be Excited About Aqua America, Inc.’s (NYSE:WTR) 12% Return On Equity?

Asher Wright

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 Aqua America, Inc. (NYSE:WTR).

Over the last twelve months Aqua America has recorded a ROE of 12%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.12.

Check out our latest analysis for Aqua America

How Do I Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for Aqua America:

12% = 249.118 ÷ US$2.0b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

It’s easy to understand the ‘net profit’ part of that equation, but ‘shareholders’ equity’ requires further explanation. It is all the money paid into the company from shareholders, plus any earnings retained. Shareholders’ equity can be calculated by subtracting the total liabilities of the company from the total assets of the company.

What Does Return On Equity Mean?

ROE measures a company’s profitability against the profit it retains, and any outside investments. The ‘return’ is the profit over the last twelve months. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Aqua America Have A Good ROE?

Arguably the easiest way to assess company’s ROE is to compare it with the average in its industry. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Aqua America has a better ROE than the average (9.2%) in the Water Utilities industry.

NYSE:WTR Last Perf January 5th 19

That’s what I like to see. We think a high ROE, alone, is usually enough to justify further research into a company. For example, I often check if insiders have been buying shares .

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Most companies need money — from somewhere — 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 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.

Combining Aqua America’s Debt And Its 12% Return On Equity

Aqua America clearly uses a significant amount debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.18. while its ROE is respectable, it is worth keeping in mind that there is usually a limit to how much debt a company can use. Debt does bring extra risk, so it’s only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is a useful indicator of the ability of a business to generate profits and return them to shareholders. A company that can achieve a high return on equity without debt could be considered a high quality business. All else being equal, a higher ROE is better.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. Profit growth rates, versus the expectations reflected in the price of the stock, are a particularly important to consider. So I think it may be worth checking this free report on 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.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.