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Some Investors May Be Worried About Unitil's (NYSE:UTL) Returns On Capital

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To find a multi-bagger stock, what are the underlying trends we should look for in a business? In a perfect world, we'd like to see a company investing more capital into its business and ideally the returns earned from that capital are also increasing. Ultimately, this demonstrates that it's a business that is reinvesting profits at increasing rates of return. In light of that, when we looked at Unitil (NYSE:UTL) and its ROCE trend, we weren't exactly thrilled.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

For those who don't know, ROCE is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. Analysts use this formula to calculate it for Unitil:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)

0.053 = US$71m ÷ (US$1.5b - US$136m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2020).

Thus, Unitil has an ROCE of 5.3%. Even though it's in line with the industry average of 4.7%, it's still a low return by itself.

See our latest analysis for Unitil

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Above you can see how the current ROCE for Unitil compares to its prior returns on capital, but there's only so much you can tell from the past. If you'd like, you can check out the forecasts from the analysts covering Unitil here for free.

What The Trend Of ROCE Can Tell Us

In terms of Unitil's historical ROCE movements, the trend isn't fantastic. Over the last five years, returns on capital have decreased to 5.3% from 7.0% five years ago. On the other hand, the company has been employing more capital without a corresponding improvement in sales in the last year, which could suggest these investments are longer term plays. It's worth keeping an eye on the company's earnings from here on to see if these investments do end up contributing to the bottom line.

The Bottom Line

Bringing it all together, while we're somewhat encouraged by Unitil's reinvestment in its own business, we're aware that returns are shrinking. Unsurprisingly, the stock has only gained 34% over the last five years, which potentially indicates that investors are accounting for this going forward. Therefore, if you're looking for a multi-bagger, we'd propose looking at other options.

Unitil does come with some risks though, we found 2 warning signs in our investment analysis, and 1 of those doesn't sit too well with us...

For those who like to invest in solid companies, check out this free list of companies with solid balance sheets and high returns on equity.

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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.