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Should You Like ACEA S.p.A.’s (BIT:ACE) High Return On Capital Employed?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at ACEA S.p.A. (BIT:ACE) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

Firstly, we'll go over how we 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.

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. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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?

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 ACEA:

0.077 = €468m ÷ (€8.7b - €2.6b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, ACEA has an ROCE of 7.7%.

Check out our latest analysis for ACEA

Does ACEA Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. ACEA's ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 5.2% average in the Integrated Utilities industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Separate from how ACEA 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 ACEA's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

BIT:ACE Past Revenue and Net Income, November 28th 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 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 ACEA.

Do ACEA'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. 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

ACEA has total assets of €8.7b and current liabilities of €2.6b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 30% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

Our Take On ACEA's ROCE

With that in mind, we're not overly impressed with ACEA's ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. 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 like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.

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. Thank you for reading.