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How Good Is Peabody Energy Corporation (NYSE:BTU) At Creating Shareholder Value?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Peabody Energy Corporation (NYSE:BTU) 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 of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect 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. 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 Peabody Energy:

0.075 = US$460m ÷ (US$7.1b - US$992m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Peabody Energy has an ROCE of 7.5%.

View our latest analysis for Peabody Energy

Is Peabody Energy's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. We can see Peabody Energy's ROCE is around the 8.3% average reported by the Oil and Gas industry. Separate from how Peabody Energy stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

Peabody Energy has an ROCE of 7.5%, but it didn't have an ROCE 3 years ago, since it was unprofitable. That suggests the business has returned to profitability. You can see in the image below how Peabody Energy's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:BTU Past Revenue and Net Income, September 10th 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 Peabody Energy are cyclical businesses. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Peabody Energy.

How Peabody 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. 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Peabody Energy has total liabilities of US$992m and total assets of US$7.1b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 14% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On Peabody Energy's ROCE

With that in mind, we're not overly impressed with Peabody Energy's ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

I will like Peabody 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.