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Is LKQ Corporation (NASDAQ:LKQ) Struggling With Its 9.1% Return On Capital Employed?

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at LKQ Corporation (NASDAQ:LKQ) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. In particular, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

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

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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.

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 LKQ:

0.091 = US$962m ÷ (US$13b - US$2.1b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, LKQ has an ROCE of 9.1%.

See our latest analysis for LKQ

Is LKQ's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In this analysis, LKQ's ROCE appears meaningfully below the 15% average reported by the Retail Distributors industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, LKQ'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.

The image below shows how LKQ's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NasdaqGS:LKQ Past Revenue and Net Income, October 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for LKQ.

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

LKQ has total assets of US$13b and current liabilities of US$2.1b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 17% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

Our Take On LKQ's ROCE

That said, LKQ's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than LKQ. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are 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.