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A Close Look At Coles Group Limited’s (ASX:COL) 19% ROCE

Today we'll evaluate Coles Group Limited (ASX:COL) 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.

First of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting 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. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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.'

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Coles Group:

0.19 = AU\$1.0b ÷ (AU\$9.8b - AU\$4.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Coles Group has an ROCE of 19%.

Is Coles Group's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. Coles Group's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 9.5% average in the Consumer Retailing industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Regardless of where Coles Group sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

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

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately 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. 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 Coles Group.

How Coles Group's Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that need to be paid within 12 months. 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Coles Group has total assets of AU\$9.8b and current liabilities of AU\$4.3b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 44% of its total assets. Coles Group has a middling amount of current liabilities, increasing its ROCE somewhat.

What We Can Learn From Coles Group's ROCE

While its ROCE looks good, it's worth remembering that the current liabilities are making the business look better. Coles Group 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.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are 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.