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Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) Is Employing Capital Very Effectively

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at Costco Wholesale Corporation (NASDAQ:COST) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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 of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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 Costco Wholesale:

0.19 = US$4.8b ÷ (US$51b - US$26b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to November 2019.)

So, Costco Wholesale has an ROCE of 19%.

See our latest analysis for Costco Wholesale

Does Costco Wholesale Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Costco Wholesale's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 8.0% average in the Consumer Retailing industry. I think that's good to see, since it implies the company is better than other companies at making the most of its capital. Separate from Costco Wholesale's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

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

NasdaqGS:COST Past Revenue and Net Income, January 20th 2020

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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Costco Wholesale.

Costco Wholesale's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Costco Wholesale has total liabilities of US$26b and total assets of US$51b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 51% of its total assets. This is admittedly a high level of current liabilities, improving ROCE substantially.

Our Take On Costco Wholesale's ROCE

This ROCE is pretty good, but remember that it would look less impressive with fewer current liabilities. There might be better investments than Costco Wholesale out there, but you will have to work hard to find them . These promising businesses with rapidly growing earnings might be right up your alley.

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.