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Do Alaska Air Group, Inc.’s (NYSE:ALK) Returns On Capital Employed Make The Cut?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. In particular, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

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

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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?

Analysts use this formula to calculate return on capital employed:

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

Or for Alaska Air Group:

0.099 = US$958m ÷ (US$13b - US$3.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Therefore, Alaska Air Group has an ROCE of 9.9%.

View our latest analysis for Alaska Air Group

Does Alaska Air Group Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, Alaska Air Group's ROCE appears to be around the 11% average of the Airlines industry. Aside from the industry comparison, Alaska Air Group's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

Alaska Air Group's current ROCE of 9.9% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 22%, 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. The image below shows how Alaska Air Group's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:ALK Past Revenue and Net Income, October 26th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Alaska Air Group.

Do Alaska Air Group's Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that need to be paid within 12 months. Due to the way ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Alaska Air Group has total liabilities of US$3.3b and total assets of US$13b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 26% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On Alaska Air Group's ROCE

That said, Alaska Air Group's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.