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Are Ulta Beauty, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ULTA) High Returns Really That Great?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Ulta Beauty, Inc. (NASDAQ:ULTA) 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 up, we'll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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 Ulta Beauty:

0.24 = US$895m ÷ (US$4.9b - US$1.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to November 2019.)

Therefore, Ulta Beauty has an ROCE of 24%.

View our latest analysis for Ulta Beauty

Is Ulta Beauty's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Ulta Beauty's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 11% average in the Specialty Retail industry. I think that's good to see, since it implies the company is better than other companies at making the most of its capital. Putting aside its position relative to its industry for now, in absolute terms, Ulta Beauty's ROCE is currently very good.

You can see in the image below how Ulta Beauty's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NasdaqGS:ULTA Past Revenue and Net Income, January 12th 2020

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Ulta Beauty.

Ulta Beauty's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. 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.

Ulta Beauty has total assets of US$4.9b and current liabilities of US$1.3b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 26% of its total assets. The fairly low level of current liabilities won't have much impact on the already great ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Ulta Beauty's ROCE

Low current liabilities and high ROCE is a good combination, making Ulta Beauty look quite interesting. Ulta Beauty 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).

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.