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Why We Like UnitedHealth Group Incorporated’s (NYSE:UNH) 18% Return On Capital Employed

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (NYSE:UNH) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. Specifically, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

First of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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 UnitedHealth Group:

0.18 = US$19b ÷ (US$167b - US$62b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, UnitedHealth Group has an ROCE of 18%.

View our latest analysis for UnitedHealth Group

Does UnitedHealth Group Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. UnitedHealth Group's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 11% average in the Healthcare industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Independently of how UnitedHealth Group compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears decent, and the company may be worthy of closer investigation.

You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how UnitedHealth Group's past growth compares to other companies.

NYSE:UNH Past Revenue and Net Income, September 26th 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for UnitedHealth Group.

UnitedHealth Group's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills 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.

UnitedHealth Group has total assets of US$167b and current liabilities of US$62b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 37% of its total assets. UnitedHealth Group has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost the ROCE.

Our Take On UnitedHealth Group's ROCE

While its ROCE looks good, it's worth remembering that the current liabilities are making the business look better. There might be better investments than UnitedHealth Group out there, but you will have to work hard to find them . These promising businesses with rapidly growing earnings might be right up your alley.

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.