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What We Think Of Kansas City Southern’s (NYSE:KSU) Investment Potential

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Kansas City Southern (NYSE:KSU) 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.

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.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

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?

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 Kansas City Southern:

0.11 = US$991m ÷ (US$9.6b - US$767m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Kansas City Southern has an ROCE of 11%.

View our latest analysis for Kansas City Southern

Is Kansas City Southern's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. It appears that Kansas City Southern's ROCE is fairly close to the Transportation industry average of 11%. Regardless of where Kansas City Southern sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Kansas City Southern's past growth compares to other companies.

NYSE:KSU Past Revenue and Net Income, September 17th 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during 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 Kansas City Southern.

Kansas City Southern's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its 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 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.

Kansas City Southern has total liabilities of US$767m and total assets of US$9.6b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 8.0% of its total assets. Low current liabilities have only a minimal impact on Kansas City Southern's ROCE, making its decent returns more credible.

What We Can Learn From Kansas City Southern's ROCE

If it is able to keep this up, Kansas City Southern could be attractive. Kansas City Southern 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.

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.