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Are H&R Block, Inc.’s (NYSE:HRB) High Returns Really That Great?

David Owens

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Today we’ll look at H&R Block, Inc. (NYSE:HRB) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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?

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 H&R Block:

0.42 = US$759m ÷ (US$2.2b – US$436m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to October 2018.)

So, H&R Block has an ROCE of 42%.

Check out our latest analysis for H&R Block

Is H&R Block’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, we find that H&R Block’s ROCE is meaningfully better than the 11% average in the Consumer Services industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Setting aside the comparison to its industry for a moment, H&R Block’s ROCE in absolute terms currently looks quite high.

NYSE:HRB Last Perf February 4th 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. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Do H&R Block’s Current Liabilities Skew 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 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.

H&R Block has total liabilities of US$436m and total assets of US$2.2b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 20% of its total assets. The fairly low level of current liabilities won’t have much impact on the already great ROCE.

Our Take On H&R Block’s ROCE

This is good to see, and with such a high ROCE, H&R Block may be worth a closer look. But note: H&R Block 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.