Today we'll evaluate National Fuel Gas Company (NYSE:NFG) 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. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect 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. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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?
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 National Fuel Gas:
0.085 = US$512m ÷ (US$6.5b - US$425m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)
Therefore, National Fuel Gas has an ROCE of 8.5%.
Is National Fuel Gas's ROCE Good?
One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, we find that National Fuel Gas's ROCE is meaningfully better than the 5.6% average in the Gas Utilities industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Separate from how National Fuel Gas 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.
You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how National Fuel Gas's past growth compares to other companies.
When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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.
National Fuel Gas'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 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.
National Fuel Gas has total assets of US$6.5b and current liabilities of US$425m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 6.6% of its total assets. With low levels of current liabilities, at least National Fuel Gas's mediocre ROCE is not unduly boosted.
The Bottom Line On National Fuel Gas's ROCE
Based on this information, National Fuel Gas appears to be a mediocre business. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.