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Should You Be Excited About The Hershey Company's (NYSE:HSY) 72% Return On Equity?

Simply Wall St

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). By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of The Hershey Company (NYSE:HSY).

Over the last twelve months Hershey has recorded a ROE of 72%. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.72 in profit.

View our latest analysis for Hershey

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for Hershey:

72% = US$1.3b ÷ US$1.8b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

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. The easiest way to calculate shareholders' equity is to subtract the company's total liabilities from the total assets.

What Does ROE Mean?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the yearly profit. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, all else being equal, a high ROE is better than a low one. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.

Does Hershey Have A Good Return On Equity?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. As is clear from the image below, Hershey has a better ROE than the average (10%) in the Food industry.

NYSE:HSY Past Revenue and Net Income, November 11th 2019

That is a good sign. In my book, a high ROE almost always warrants a closer look. For example you might check if insiders are buying shares.

How Does Debt Impact ROE?

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 used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

Hershey's Debt And Its 72% ROE

Hershey does use a significant amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 2.52. I think the ROE is impressive, but it would have been assisted by the use of debt. 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. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

But ROE is just one piece of a bigger puzzle, since high quality businesses often trade on high multiples of earnings. 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, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.