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Is Heartland Express, Inc. (NASDAQ:HTLD) Creating Value For Shareholders?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Heartland Express, Inc. (NASDAQ:HTLD) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

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

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. 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?

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 Heartland Express:

0.098 = US$76m ÷ (US$860m - US$77m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Heartland Express has an ROCE of 9.8%.

See our latest analysis for Heartland Express

Is Heartland Express's ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see Heartland Express's ROCE is around the 11% average reported by the Transportation industry. Aside from the industry comparison, Heartland Express'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.

You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Heartland Express's past growth compares to other companies.

NasdaqGS:HTLD Past Revenue and Net Income, August 21st 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. ROCE can be misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the busts. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Heartland Express.

How Heartland Express'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 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Heartland Express has total assets of US$860m and current liabilities of US$77m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 8.9% of its total assets. Heartland Express reports few current liabilities, which have a negligible impact on its unremarkable ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Heartland Express's ROCE

Heartland Express looks like an ok business, but on this analysis it is not at the top of our buy list. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. 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.

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.