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Is AutoZone, Inc.’s (NYSE:AZO) 49% ROCE Any Good?

Brandy Kinsey

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Today we’ll look at AutoZone, Inc. (NYSE:AZO) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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 of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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?

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 AutoZone:

0.49 = US$2.1b ÷ (US$9.5b – US$5.2b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to November 2018.)

Therefore, AutoZone has an ROCE of 49%.

See our latest analysis for AutoZone

Is AutoZone’s ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. In our analysis, AutoZone’s ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 13% average in the Specialty Retail industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Setting aside the comparison to its industry for a moment, AutoZone’s ROCE in absolute terms currently looks quite high.

NYSE:AZO Past Revenue and Net Income, February 20th 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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

AutoZone’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

AutoZone has total assets of US$9.5b and current liabilities of US$5.2b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 54% of its total assets. AutoZone boasts an attractive ROCE, even after considering the boost from high current liabilities.

The Bottom Line On AutoZone’s ROCE

So to us, the company is potentially worth investigating further. You might be able to find a better buy than AutoZone. 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).

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.