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Is There More To Air Canada (TSE:AC) Than Its 6.7% Returns On Capital?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Air Canada (TSE:AC) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

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 Air Canada:

0.067 = CA$1.3b ÷ (CA$28b - CA$8.5b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Air Canada has an ROCE of 6.7%.

Check out our latest analysis for Air Canada

Is Air Canada's ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, Air Canada's ROCE appears to be around the 6.7% average of the Airlines industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Air Canada's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

Air Canada's current ROCE of 6.7% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 14%, 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. The image below shows how Air Canada's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

TSX:AC Past Revenue and Net Income, September 2nd 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. ROCE can be misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the busts. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Air Canada.

How Air Canada's Current Liabilities Impact 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.

Air Canada has total assets of CA$28b and current liabilities of CA$8.5b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 31% of its total assets. Air Canada's middling level of current liabilities have the effect of boosting its ROCE a bit.

The Bottom Line On Air Canada's ROCE

Unfortunately, its ROCE is still uninspiring, and there are potentially more attractive prospects out there. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Air Canada. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.