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Why We Like Metcash Limited’s (ASX:MTS) 21% Return On Capital Employed

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Metcash Limited (ASX:MTS) 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 of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

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

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. 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?

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 Metcash:

0.21 = AU$322m ÷ (AU$3.7b - AU$2.1b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to April 2019.)

So, Metcash has an ROCE of 21%.

View our latest analysis for Metcash

Is Metcash's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Metcash's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 10% average in the Consumer Retailing industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Putting aside its position relative to its industry for now, in absolute terms, Metcash's ROCE is currently very good.

We can see that , Metcash currently has an ROCE of 21% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 14%. This makes us think the business might be improving. You can see in the image below how Metcash's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

ASX:MTS Past Revenue and Net Income, August 26th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Metcash.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Metcash's 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Metcash has total assets of AU$3.7b and current liabilities of AU$2.1b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 58% of its total assets. While a high level of current liabilities boosts its ROCE, Metcash's returns are still very good.

What We Can Learn From Metcash's ROCE

So to us, the company is potentially worth investigating further. Metcash shapes up well under this analysis, but it is far from the only business delivering excellent numbers . You might also want to check this free collection of companies delivering excellent earnings growth.

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.