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Should You Like Devon Energy Corporation’s (NYSE:DVN) High Return On Capital Employed?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Devon Energy Corporation (NYSE:DVN) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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. 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 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. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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'.

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 Devon Energy:

0.12 = US$1.6b ÷ (US$17b - US$3.5b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Devon Energy has an ROCE of 12%.

Check out our latest analysis for Devon Energy

Does Devon Energy Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In our analysis, Devon Energy's ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 8.2% average in the Oil and Gas industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Separate from Devon Energy's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

We can see that, Devon Energy currently has an ROCE of 12% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 0.9%. This makes us think the business might be improving. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Devon Energy's past growth compares to other companies.

NYSE:DVN Past Revenue and Net Income, October 19th 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. Remember that most companies like Devon Energy are cyclical businesses. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Devon Energy'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. 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.

Devon Energy has total liabilities of US$3.5b and total assets of US$17b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 21% of its total assets. Current liabilities are minimal, limiting the impact on ROCE.

Our Take On Devon Energy's ROCE

This is good to see, and with a sound ROCE, Devon Energy could be worth a closer look. Devon Energy 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 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.