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With A Return On Equity Of 8.6%, Has Fortis Inc.'s (TSE:FTS) Management Done Well?

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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 Fortis Inc. (TSE:FTS).

ROE or return on equity is a useful tool to assess how effectively a company can generate returns on the investment it received from its shareholders. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

See our latest analysis for Fortis

How To Calculate Return On Equity?

ROE can be calculated by using the formula:

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

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

8.6% = CA$1.8b ÷ CA$21b (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2020).

The 'return' is the yearly profit. Another way to think of that is that for every CA$1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn CA$0.09 in profit.

Does Fortis Have A Good Return On Equity?

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. If you look at the image below, you can see Fortis has a similar ROE to the average in the Electric Utilities industry classification (8.6%).

TSX:FTS Past Revenue and Net Income July 6th 2020
TSX:FTS Past Revenue and Net Income July 6th 2020

That isn't amazing, but it is respectable. Even if the ROE is respectable when compared to the industry, its worth checking if the firm's ROE is being aided by high debt levels. If true, then it is more an indication of risk than the potential. Our risks dashboardshould have the 3 risks we have identified for Fortis.

Why You Should Consider Debt When Looking At ROE

Companies usually need to invest money to grow their profits. The cash for investment can come from prior year profits (retained earnings), issuing new shares, or borrowing. In the first two cases, the ROE will capture this use of capital to grow. In the latter case, the use of debt will improve the returns, but will not change the equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

Combining Fortis' Debt And Its 8.6% Return On Equity

Fortis clearly uses a high amount of debt to boost returns, as it has a debt to equity ratio of 1.15. Its ROE is quite low, even with the use of significant debt; that's not a good result, in our opinion. Investors should think carefully about how a company might perform if it was unable to borrow so easily, because credit markets do change over time.

Summary

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 around the same level of debt to equity, and one has a higher ROE, I'd generally prefer the one with higher ROE.

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. 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, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies.

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. 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.

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