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Here’s why Auckland International Airport Limited’s (NZSE:AIA) Returns On Capital Matters So Much

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Auckland International Airport Limited (NZSE:AIA) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. Renowned investment researcher Michael Mauboussin has suggested that a high ROCE can indicate that 'one dollar invested in the company generates value of more than one dollar'.

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Auckland International Airport:

0.055 = NZ$451m ÷ (NZ$8.7b - NZ$560m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Auckland International Airport has an ROCE of 5.5%.

Check out our latest analysis for Auckland International Airport

Is Auckland International Airport's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In this analysis, Auckland International Airport's ROCE appears meaningfully below the 8.8% average reported by the Infrastructure industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Separate from how Auckland International Airport stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

The image below shows how Auckland International Airport's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NZSE:AIA Past Revenue and Net Income, September 14th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the busts. 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 Auckland International Airport's Current Liabilities Skew 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. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Auckland International Airport has total liabilities of NZ$560m and total assets of NZ$8.7b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 6.4% of its total assets. With low levels of current liabilities, at least Auckland International Airport's mediocre ROCE is not unduly boosted.

What We Can Learn From Auckland International Airport's ROCE

If performance improves, then Auckland International Airport may be an OK investment, especially at the right valuation. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

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.