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Are Motorola Solutions, Inc.’s (NYSE:MSI) High Returns Really That Great?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Motorola Solutions, Inc. (NYSE:MSI) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. To be precise, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

Understanding 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. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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?

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 Motorola Solutions:

0.22 = US$1.6b ÷ (US$10.0b - US$3.0b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, Motorola Solutions has an ROCE of 22%.

View our latest analysis for Motorola Solutions

Does Motorola Solutions Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, we find that Motorola Solutions's ROCE is meaningfully better than the 7.2% average in the Communications industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Regardless of the industry comparison, in absolute terms, Motorola Solutions's ROCE currently appears to be excellent.

In our analysis, Motorola Solutions's ROCE appears to be 22%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 15%. This makes us wonder if the company is improving. The image below shows how Motorola Solutions's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:MSI Past Revenue and Net Income, August 1st 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. 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 Motorola Solutions.

How Motorola Solutions'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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Motorola Solutions has total assets of US$10.0b and current liabilities of US$3.0b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 30% of its total assets. This is quite a low level of current liabilities which would not greatly boost the already high ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Motorola Solutions's ROCE

With low current liabilities and a high ROCE, Motorola Solutions could be worthy of further investigation. Motorola Solutions shapes up well under this analysis, but it is far from the only business delivering excellent numbers . You might also want to check this free collection of companies delivering excellent earnings growth.

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.