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Is CSX Corporation (NASDAQ:CSX) Struggling With Its 13% Return On Capital Employed?

Frank Brewer

Today we are going to look at CSX Corporation (NASDAQ:CSX) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect 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. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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 CSX:

0.13 = US$3.9b ÷ (US$37b – US$1.9b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Therefore, CSX has an ROCE of 13%.

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Is CSX’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, we find that CSX’s ROCE is meaningfully better than the 10% average in the Transportation 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. Independently of how CSX compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears decent, and the company may be worthy of closer investigation.


NasdaqGS:CSX Last Perf January 19th 19

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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Do CSX’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

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

CSX has total assets of US$37b and current liabilities of US$1.9b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 5.3% of its total assets. With low current liabilities, CSX’s decent ROCE looks that much more respectable.

What We Can Learn From CSX’s ROCE

This is good to see, and while better prospects may exist, CSX seems worth researching further. But note: CSX may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio 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.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.