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Has Arconic Inc. (NYSE:ARNC) Been Employing Capital Shrewdly?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Arconic Inc. (NYSE:ARNC) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 Arconic:

0.095 = US$1.4b ÷ (US$18b - US$3.6b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Arconic has an ROCE of 9.5%.

Check out our latest analysis for Arconic

Does Arconic Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, Arconic's ROCE appears to be around the 11% average of the Aerospace & Defense industry. Separate from how Arconic stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

Our data shows that Arconic currently has an ROCE of 9.5%, compared to its ROCE of 4.3% 3 years ago. This makes us wonder if the company is improving. You can see in the image below how Arconic's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:ARNC Past Revenue and Net Income, October 27th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Arconic.

How Arconic's Current Liabilities Impact Its 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.

Arconic has total liabilities of US$3.6b and total assets of US$18b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 20% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On Arconic's ROCE

If Arconic continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Arconic. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.