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Should You Be Worried About United Utilities Group PLC's (LON:UU.) 3.6% 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). We'll use ROE to examine United Utilities Group PLC (LON:UU.), by way of a worked example.

Return on equity or ROE is an important factor to be considered by a shareholder because it tells them how effectively their capital is being reinvested. In other words, it is a profitability ratio which measures the rate of return on the capital provided by the company's shareholders.

Check out our latest analysis for United Utilities Group

How Is ROE Calculated?

Return on equity 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 United Utilities Group is:

3.6% = UK£107m ÷ UK£3.0b (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 £1 worth of equity, the company was able to earn £0.04 in profit.

Does United Utilities Group 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. If you look at the image below, you can see United Utilities Group has a lower ROE than the average (9.0%) in the Water Utilities industry classification.

LSE:UU. Past Revenue and Net Income May 27th 2020

That's not what we like to see. That being said, a low ROE is not always a bad thing, especially if the company has low leverage as this still leaves room for improvement if the company were to take on more debt. A high debt company having a low ROE is a different story altogether and a risky investment in our books. You can see the 3 risks we have identified for United Utilities Group by visiting our risks dashboard for free on our platform here.

The Importance Of Debt To Return On Equity

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 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. That will make the ROE look better than if no debt was used.

United Utilities Group's Debt And Its 3.6% ROE

United Utilities Group does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 2.80. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it's hard to get excited about this business at the moment. 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 useful for comparing the quality of different businesses. 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.

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

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.

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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. Thank you for reading.