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Why We’re Not Keen On Transurban Group’s (ASX:TCL) 3.2% Return On Capital

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at Transurban Group (ASX:TCL) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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 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. 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.

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 Transurban Group:

0.032 = AU$1.0b ÷ (AU$36b - AU$3.8b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Transurban Group has an ROCE of 3.2%.

See our latest analysis for Transurban Group

Does Transurban Group Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, Transurban Group's ROCE appears to be significantly below the 5.5% average in the Infrastructure industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Regardless of how Transurban Group stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is quite low (especially compared to a bank account). There are potentially more appealing investments elsewhere.

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

ASX:TCL Past Revenue and Net Income, September 29th 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. 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 Transurban Group.

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

Transurban Group has total liabilities of AU$3.8b and total assets of AU$36b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 11% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which will have a limited impact on the ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Transurban Group's ROCE

That's not a bad thing, however Transurban Group has a weak ROCE and may not be an attractive investment. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Transurban Group. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.