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Read This Before Judging SL Green Realty Corp.'s (NYSE:SLG) ROE

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 SL Green Realty Corp. (NYSE:SLG), by way of a worked example.

Our data shows SL Green Realty has a return on equity of 3.2% for the last year. That means that for every $1 worth of shareholders' equity, it generated $0.03 in profit.

Check out our latest analysis for SL Green Realty

How Do I Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

Return on Equity = Net Profit ÷ Shareholders' Equity

Or for SL Green Realty:

3.2% = US$176m ÷ US$6.5b (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Most readers would understand what net profit is, but it’s worth explaining the concept of shareholders’ equity. It is the capital paid in by shareholders, plus any retained earnings. You can calculate shareholders' equity by subtracting the company's total liabilities from its total assets.

What Does Return On Equity Signify?

ROE looks at the amount a company earns relative to the money it has kept within the business. The 'return' is the yearly profit. A higher profit will lead to a higher ROE. So, all else equal, investors should like a high ROE. Clearly, then, one can use ROE to compare different companies.

Does SL Green Realty Have A Good ROE?

One simple way to determine if a company has a good return on equity is to compare it to the average for its industry. However, this method is only useful as a rough check, because companies do differ quite a bit within the same industry classification. As shown in the graphic below, SL Green Realty has a lower ROE than the average (5.9%) in the REITs industry classification.

NYSE:SLG Past Revenue and Net Income, November 5th 2019

That certainly isn't ideal. We prefer it when the ROE of a company is above the industry average, but it's not the be-all and end-all if it is lower. Still, shareholders might want to check if insiders have been selling.

The Importance Of Debt To 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 case of the first and second options, the ROE will reflect this use of cash, for growth. In the latter case, the debt used for growth will improve returns, but won't affect the total equity. In this manner the use of debt will boost ROE, even though the core economics of the business stay the same.

SL Green Realty's Debt And Its 3.2% ROE

While SL Green Realty does have some debt, with debt to equity of just 0.90, we wouldn't say debt is excessive. Its ROE is quite low, and the company already has some debt, so surely shareholders are hoping for an improvement. Conservative use of debt to boost returns is usually a good move for shareholders, though it does leave the company more exposed to interest rate rises.

The Key Takeaway

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. If two companies have the same ROE, then I would generally prefer the one with less debt.

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 you might want to check this FREE visualization of analyst forecasts for the company.

But note: SL Green Realty may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with high ROE and low debt.

We aim to bring you long-term focused research analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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. Simply Wall St has no position in the stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.