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Is Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) Investing Your Capital Efficiently?

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll look at Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) and reflect on its potential as an investment. To be precise, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since 'No two businesses are exactly alike.'

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

The formula for calculating the return on capital employed is:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)

Or for Abbott Laboratories:

0.07 = US$4.1b ÷ (US$68b - US$9.1b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Therefore, Abbott Laboratories has an ROCE of 7.0%.

View our latest analysis for Abbott Laboratories

Does Abbott Laboratories Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, Abbott Laboratories's ROCE appears to be significantly below the 10% average in the Medical Equipment industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Abbott Laboratories's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

Abbott Laboratories's current ROCE of 7.0% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 9.6% ROCE. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. The image below shows how Abbott Laboratories's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:ABT Past Revenue and Net Income, July 2nd 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Abbott Laboratories.

How Abbott Laboratories's Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. Due to the way the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Abbott Laboratories has total liabilities of US$9.1b and total assets of US$68b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 13% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

Our Take On Abbott Laboratories's ROCE

That said, Abbott Laboratories's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. You might be able to find a better investment than Abbott Laboratories. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

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.