Is Prudential Financial, Inc.'s (NYSE:PRU) ROE Of 8.4% Concerning?

Prudential Financial, Inc. +0.68%
 Prudential Financial, Inc. PRU 109.46 +0.68%

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. To keep the lesson grounded in practicality, we'll use ROE to better understand Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE:PRU).

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 short, ROE shows the profit each dollar generates with respect to its shareholder investments.

See our latest analysis for Prudential Financial

How Do You Calculate Return On Equity?

The formula for return on equity is:

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

So, based on the above formula, the ROE for Prudential Financial is:

8.4% = US\$2.5b ÷ US\$30b (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2023).

The 'return' is the amount earned after tax over the last twelve months. That means that for every \$1 worth of shareholders' equity, the company generated \$0.08 in profit.

Does Prudential Financial 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. Importantly, this is far from a perfect measure, because companies differ significantly within the same industry classification. If you look at the image below, you can see Prudential Financial has a lower ROE than the average (13%) in the Insurance industry classification.

Unfortunately, that's sub-optimal. However, a low ROE is not always bad. If the company's debt levels are moderate to low, then there's still a chance that returns can be improved via the use of financial leverage. A high debt company having a low ROE is a different story altogether and a risky investment in our books.

How Does Debt Impact 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 and second cases, the ROE will reflect this use of cash for investment in the business. 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 Prudential Financial's Debt And Its 8.4% Return On Equity

Prudential Financial does use a high amount of debt to increase returns. It has a debt to equity ratio of 1.12. With a fairly low ROE, and significant use of debt, it's hard to get excited about this business at the moment. Debt does bring extra risk, so it's only really worthwhile when a company generates some decent returns from 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. 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. It is important to consider other factors, such as future profit growth -- and how much investment is required going forward. So you might want to take a peek at this data-rich interactive graph of forecasts for the company.

Of course Prudential Financial 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.