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Why American Eagle Outfitters, Inc.’s (NYSE:AEO) Return On Capital Employed Is Impressive

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll evaluate American Eagle Outfitters, Inc. (NYSE:AEO) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. In particular, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect 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. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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.'

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 American Eagle Outfitters:

0.25 = US$341m ÷ (US$1.9b - US$543m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to February 2019.)

So, American Eagle Outfitters has an ROCE of 25%.

View our latest analysis for American Eagle Outfitters

Is American Eagle Outfitters's ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, we find that American Eagle Outfitters's ROCE is meaningfully better than the 13% 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. Regardless of the industry comparison, in absolute terms, American Eagle Outfitters's ROCE currently appears to be excellent.

NYSE:AEO Past Revenue and Net Income, April 3rd 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is 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.

Do American Eagle Outfitters's Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

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

American Eagle Outfitters has total liabilities of US$543m and total assets of US$1.9b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 29% 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 American Eagle Outfitters's ROCE

This is good to see, and with such a high ROCE, American Eagle Outfitters may be worth a closer look. But note: American Eagle Outfitters may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

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

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.