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Are ArcBest Corporation’s (NASDAQ:ARCB) Returns Worth Your While?

Today we'll evaluate ArcBest Corporation (NASDAQ:ARCB) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

Firstly, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on 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. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. Renowned investment researcher Michael Mauboussin has suggested that a high ROCE can indicate that 'one dollar invested in the company generates value of more than one dollar'.

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 ArcBest:

0.13 = US\$154m ÷ (US\$1.6b - US\$471m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, ArcBest has an ROCE of 13%.

Is ArcBest's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. We can see ArcBest's ROCE is around the 11% average reported by the Transportation industry. Separate from ArcBest's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

In our analysis, ArcBest's ROCE appears to be 13%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 5.4%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly. The image below shows how ArcBest's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. ROCE can be misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the 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 ArcBest.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect ArcBest's ROCE?

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

ArcBest has total assets of US\$1.6b and current liabilities of US\$471m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 29% of its total assets. Low current liabilities are not boosting the ROCE too much.

The Bottom Line On ArcBest's ROCE

With that in mind, ArcBest's ROCE appears pretty good. ArcBest shapes up well under this analysis, but it is far from the only business delivering excellent numbers . You might also want to check this free collection of companies delivering excellent earnings growth.

I will like ArcBest better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider 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.