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Here’s What Contura Energy, Inc.’s (NYSE:CTRA) Return On Capital Can Tell Us

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll evaluate Contura Energy, Inc. (NYSE:CTRA) 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 up, we'll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. 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 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. 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 Contura Energy:

0.10 = US$248m ÷ (US$2.7b - US$355m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Contura Energy has an ROCE of 10%.

View our latest analysis for Contura Energy

Is Contura Energy's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. We can see Contura Energy's ROCE is around the 8.8% average reported by the Oil and Gas industry. Separate from how Contura Energy 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.

Contura Energy has an ROCE of 10%, but it didn't have an ROCE 3 years ago, since it was unprofitable. That implies the business has been improving.

NYSE:CTRA Past Revenue and Net Income, May 7th 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 only a point-in-time measure. We note Contura Energy could be considered a cyclical business. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Contura Energy.

How Contura Energy's Current Liabilities Impact 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. 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Contura Energy has total liabilities of US$355m and total assets of US$2.7b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 13% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

The Bottom Line On Contura Energy's ROCE

With that in mind, we're not overly impressed with Contura Energy's ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. You might be able to find a better investment than Contura Energy. 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).

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.