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What Can We Make Of AutoZone, Inc.’s (NYSE:AZO) High Return On Capital?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate AutoZone, Inc. (NYSE:AZO) 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. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared 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 is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the 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?

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 AutoZone:

0.48 = US$2.2b ÷ (US$9.8b - US$5.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to May 2019.)

Therefore, AutoZone has an ROCE of 48%.

Check out our latest analysis for AutoZone

Does AutoZone Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, we find that AutoZone's ROCE is meaningfully better than the 10% average in the Specialty Retail industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Setting aside the comparison to its industry for a moment, AutoZone's ROCE in absolute terms currently looks quite high.

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

NYSE:AZO Past Revenue and Net Income, August 27th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for AutoZone.

Do AutoZone'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.

AutoZone has total liabilities of US$5.3b and total assets of US$9.8b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 54% of its total assets. AutoZone's high level of current liabilities boost the ROCE - but its ROCE is still impressive.

What We Can Learn From AutoZone's ROCE

In my book, this business could be worthy of further research. AutoZone 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.

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.