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Are Brown-Forman Corporation’s (NYSE:BF.B) High Returns Really That Great?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE:BF.B) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. To be precise, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

Firstly, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting 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. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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'.

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 Brown-Forman:

0.24 = US$1.0b ÷ (US$5.2b - US$895m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to January 2019.)

So, Brown-Forman has an ROCE of 24%.

See our latest analysis for Brown-Forman

Does Brown-Forman Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Brown-Forman's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 11% average in the Beverage industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Regardless of the industry comparison, in absolute terms, Brown-Forman's ROCE currently appears to be excellent.

Brown-Forman's current ROCE of 24% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 33%, 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

NYSE:BF.B Past Revenue and Net Income, April 12th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. 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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Brown-Forman's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. Due to the way the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Brown-Forman has total assets of US$5.2b and current liabilities of US$895m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 17% of its total assets. A minimal amount of current liabilities limits the impact on ROCE.

Our Take On Brown-Forman's ROCE

Low current liabilities and high ROCE is a good combination, making Brown-Forman look quite interesting. Brown-Forman 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 Brown-Forman 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.