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 Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital, Inc. (NYSE:HASI).
Over the last twelve months Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital has recorded a ROE of 5.9%. One way to conceptualize this, is that for each $1 of shareholders' equity it has, the company made $0.059 in profit.
How Do You Calculate ROE?
The formula for return on equity is:
Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity
Or for Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital:
5.9% = US$50m ÷ US$885m (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)
It's easy to understand the 'net profit' part of that equation, but 'shareholders' equity' requires further explanation. It is all earnings retained by the company, plus any capital paid in by shareholders. 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 Signify?
Return on Equity measures a company's profitability against the profit it has kept for the business (plus any capital injections). The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. The higher the ROE, the more profit the company is making. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means it can be interesting to compare the ROE of different companies.
Does Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital Have A Good ROE?
By comparing a company's ROE with its industry average, we can get a quick measure of how good it is. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. The image below shows that Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital has an ROE that is roughly in line with the REITs industry average (6.0%).
That's not overly surprising. ROE doesn't tell us if the share price is low, but it can inform us to the nature of the business. For those looking for a bargain, other factors may be more important. I will like Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.
How Does Debt Impact ROE?
Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow 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 use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.
Combining Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital's Debt And Its 5.9% Return On Equity
Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital clearly uses a significant amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.24. The company doesn't have a bad ROE, but it is less than ideal tht it has had to use debt to achieve its returns. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from it.
But It's Just One Metric
Return on equity is one way we can compare the business quality of different companies. 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.
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. 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 Hannon Armstrong Sustainable Infrastructure Capital may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have high ROE and low debt.
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