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Are Marathon Petroleum Corporation’s (NYSE:MPC) Returns On Investment Worth Your While?

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at Marathon Petroleum Corporation (NYSE:MPC) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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 Marathon Petroleum:

0.067 = US$5.5b ÷ (US$97b - US$15b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Marathon Petroleum has an ROCE of 6.7%.

Check out our latest analysis for Marathon Petroleum

Is Marathon Petroleum's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, Marathon Petroleum's ROCE appears to be around the 8.3% average of the Oil and Gas industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Marathon Petroleum'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.

Marathon Petroleum's current ROCE of 6.7% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 9.4%, 3 years ago. This makes us wonder if the business is facing new challenges. The image below shows how Marathon Petroleum's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:MPC Past Revenue and Net Income, September 2nd 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Remember that most companies like Marathon Petroleum are cyclical businesses. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Marathon Petroleum's ROCE?

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, that need to be paid within 12 months. Due to the way ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Marathon Petroleum has total liabilities of US$15b and total assets of US$97b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 15% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Marathon Petroleum's ROCE

That said, Marathon Petroleum's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. You might be able to find a better investment than Marathon Petroleum. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

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.