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A Note On Unitil Corporation's (NYSE:UTL) ROE and Debt To Equity

·3 min read

While some investors are already well versed in financial metrics (hat tip), this article is for those who would like to learn about Return On Equity (ROE) and why it is important. By way of learning-by-doing, we'll look at ROE to gain a better understanding of Unitil Corporation (NYSE:UTL).

Return on Equity or ROE is a test of how effectively a company is growing its value and managing investors’ money. Simply put, it is used to assess the profitability of a company in relation to its equity capital.

Check out our latest analysis for Unitil

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for ROE is:

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

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

8.0% = US$35m ÷ US$440m (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 $0.08 in profit.

Does Unitil 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. The image below shows that Unitil has an ROE that is roughly in line with the Integrated Utilities industry average (9.5%).

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That isn't amazing, but it is respectable. Although the ROE is similar to the industry, we should still perform further checks to see if the company's ROE is being boosted by high debt levels. If true, then it is more an indication of risk than the potential. Our risks dashboardshould have the 2 risks we have identified for Unitil.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At 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 two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt required for growth will boost returns, but will not impact the shareholders' equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

Combining Unitil's Debt And Its 8.0% Return On Equity

It's worth noting the high use of debt by Unitil, leading to its debt to equity ratio of 1.23. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. Debt increases risk and reduces options for the company in the future, so you generally want to see some good returns from using it.

Summary

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. Companies that can achieve high returns on equity without too much debt are generally of good quality. 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. 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.

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.

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.