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American States Water Company (NYSE:AWR) Earns Among The Best Returns In Its Industry

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at American States Water Company (NYSE:AWR) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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 up, we'll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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.

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 American States Water:

0.081 = US$118m ÷ (US$1.6b - US$106m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, American States Water has an ROCE of 8.1%.

Check out our latest analysis for American States Water

Does American States Water Have A Good ROCE?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. In our analysis, American States Water's ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 4.5% average in the Water Utilities industry. I think that's good to see, since it implies the company is better than other companies at making the most of its capital. Aside from the industry comparison, American States Water'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.

You can see in the image below how American States Water's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:AWR Past Revenue and Net Income, September 29th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and 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. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for American States Water.

How American States Water's Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

American States Water has total liabilities of US$106m and total assets of US$1.6b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 6.8% of its total assets. American States Water reports few current liabilities, which have a negligible impact on its unremarkable ROCE.

The Bottom Line On American States Water's ROCE

If performance improves, then American States Water may be an OK investment, especially at the right valuation. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

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.