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Mueller Industries, Inc. (NYSE:MLI) Is Employing Capital Very Effectively

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Mueller Industries, Inc. (NYSE:MLI) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

Firstly, we'll go over how we 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. 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?

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 Mueller Industries:

0.17 = US$193m ÷ (US$1.4b - US$247m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, Mueller Industries has an ROCE of 17%.

See our latest analysis for Mueller Industries

Is Mueller Industries's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Mueller Industries's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 11% average in the Machinery industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Regardless of where Mueller Industries 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, Mueller Industries currently has an ROCE of 17% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 12%. This makes us think the business might be improving. You can see in the image below how Mueller Industries's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:MLI Past Revenue and Net Income, January 15th 2020

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. You can check if Mueller Industries has cyclical profits by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Do Mueller Industries's Current Liabilities Skew 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 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.

Mueller Industries has total assets of US$1.4b and current liabilities of US$247m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 18% of its total assets. Low current liabilities are not boosting the ROCE too much.

What We Can Learn From Mueller Industries's ROCE

This is good to see, and with a sound ROCE, Mueller Industries could be worth a closer look. Mueller Industries 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.

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.