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Read This Before Judging RGC Resources, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:RGCO) ROE

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 RGC Resources, Inc. (NASDAQ:RGCO).

Over the last twelve months RGC Resources has recorded a ROE of 9.2%. Another way to think of that is that for every $1 worth of equity in the company, it was able to earn $0.092.

View our latest analysis for RGC Resources

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How Do You Calculate ROE?

The formula for ROE is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders’ Equity

Or for RGC Resources:

9.2% = 7.297205 ÷ US$80m (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. 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 amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. That means that the higher the ROE, the more profitable the company is. So, as a general rule, a high ROE is a good thing. That means ROE can be used to compare two businesses.

Does RGC Resources 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. The limitation of this approach is that some companies are quite different from others, even within the same industry classification. As shown in the graphic below, RGC Resources has a lower ROE than the average (12%) in the Gas Utilities industry classification.

NASDAQGM:RGCO Last Perf January 31st 19
NASDAQGM:RGCO Last Perf January 31st 19

That certainly isn’t ideal. We’d prefer see an ROE above the industry average, but it might not matter if the company is undervalued. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.

How Does Debt Impact Return On Equity?

Virtually all companies need money to invest in the business, to grow profits. That cash can come from issuing shares, retained earnings, or debt. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won’t affect the total equity. Thus the use of debt can improve ROE, albeit along with extra risk in the case of stormy weather, metaphorically speaking.

RGC Resources’s Debt And Its 9.2% ROE

RGC Resources has a debt to equity ratio of 0.88, which is far from excessive. Although the ROE isn’t overly impressive, the debt load is modest, suggesting the business has potential. Judicious use of debt to improve returns can certainly be a good thing, although it does elevate risk slightly and reduce future optionality.

The Bottom Line On ROE

Return on equity is useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. In my book the highest quality companies have high return on equity, despite low debt. If two companies have around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I’d generally prefer the one with higher ROE.

But when a business is high quality, the market often bids it up to a price that reflects this. 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.

Of course RGC Resources 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.

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.