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Otter Tail Corporation (NASDAQ:OTTR) Earns Among The Best Returns In Its Industry

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Simply Wall St
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Today we'll evaluate Otter Tail Corporation (NASDAQ:OTTR) 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. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting 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. 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 Otter Tail:

0.065 = US$123m ÷ (US$2.1b - US$206m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Otter Tail has an ROCE of 6.5%.

Check out our latest analysis for Otter Tail

Does Otter Tail Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Otter Tail's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 4.9% average in the Electric Utilities industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Aside from the industry comparison, Otter Tail'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 Otter Tail's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NasdaqGS:OTTR Past Revenue and Net Income, October 8th 2019
NasdaqGS:OTTR Past Revenue and Net Income, October 8th 2019

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. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. 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 Otter Tail's 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.

Otter Tail has total assets of US$2.1b and current liabilities of US$206m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 9.7% of its total assets. Otter Tail has a low level of current liabilities, which have a minimal impact on its uninspiring ROCE.

Our Take On Otter Tail's ROCE

Based on this information, Otter Tail appears to be a mediocre business. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Otter Tail. 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.