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Does Atmos Energy Corporation (NYSE:ATO) Create Value For Shareholders?

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll evaluate Atmos Energy Corporation (NYSE:ATO) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

Firstly, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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.'

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 Atmos Energy:

0.064 = US$720m ÷ (US$13b - US$1.5b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Atmos Energy has an ROCE of 6.4%.

See our latest analysis for Atmos Energy

Is Atmos Energy's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see Atmos Energy's ROCE is around the 6.0% average reported by the Gas Utilities industry. Aside from the industry comparison, Atmos Energy's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

NYSE:ATO Past Revenue and Net Income, April 3rd 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. 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 Atmos Energy.

Do Atmos Energy'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 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Atmos Energy has total assets of US$13b and current liabilities of US$1.5b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 12% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

What We Can Learn From Atmos Energy's ROCE

That said, Atmos Energy's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. But note: Atmos Energy 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).

I will like Atmos Energy better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

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.