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Is Lithia Motors, Inc.’s (NYSE:LAD) 14% ROCE Any Good?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Lithia Motors, Inc. (NYSE:LAD) 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.

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.

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. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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'.

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Lithia Motors:

0.14 = US$484m ÷ (US$6.0b - US$2.4b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2020.)

Therefore, Lithia Motors has an ROCE of 14%.

See our latest analysis for Lithia Motors

Is Lithia Motors's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Lithia Motors's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 9.9% average in the Specialty Retail industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Regardless of where Lithia Motors sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

We can see that, Lithia Motors currently has an ROCE of 14%, less than the 19% it reported 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Lithia Motors's past growth compares to other companies.

NYSE:LAD Past Revenue and Net Income May 2nd 2020

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Lithia Motors's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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 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.

Lithia Motors has total assets of US$6.0b and current liabilities of US$2.4b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 40% of its total assets. Lithia Motors has a middling amount of current liabilities, increasing its ROCE somewhat.

The Bottom Line On Lithia Motors's ROCE

With a decent ROCE, the company could be interesting, but remember that the level of current liabilities make the ROCE look better. Lithia Motors looks strong on this analysis, but there are plenty of other companies that could be a good opportunity . Here is a free list of companies growing earnings rapidly.

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

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.

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