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Why You Should Care About Johnson Controls International plc’s (NYSE:JCI) Low Return On Capital

Simply Wall St

Today we’ll evaluate Johnson Controls International plc (NYSE:JCI) 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.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting 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. 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’.

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 Johnson Controls International:

0.10 = US$3.6b ÷ (US$48b – US$12b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Johnson Controls International has an ROCE of 10%.

See our latest analysis for Johnson Controls International

Is Johnson Controls International’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In this analysis, Johnson Controls International’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 15% average reported by the Building industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Aside from the industry comparison, Johnson Controls International’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

NYSE:JCI Past Revenue and Net Income, March 10th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. 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.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Johnson Controls International’s ROCE?

Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they 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.

Johnson Controls International has total assets of US$48b and current liabilities of US$12b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 24% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

The Bottom Line On Johnson Controls International’s ROCE

If Johnson Controls International continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. You might be able to find a better buy than Johnson Controls International. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

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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.