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Eaton's (NYSE:ETN) Returns Have Hit A Wall

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To find a multi-bagger stock, what are the underlying trends we should look for in a business? Typically, we'll want to notice a trend of growing return on capital employed (ROCE) and alongside that, an expanding base of capital employed. Put simply, these types of businesses are compounding machines, meaning they are continually reinvesting their earnings at ever-higher rates of return. Although, when we looked at Eaton (NYSE:ETN), it didn't seem to tick all of these boxes.

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

Just to clarify if you're unsure, ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. The formula for this calculation on Eaton is:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)

0.087 = US$2.4b ÷ (US$37b - US$8.9b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2021).

So, Eaton has an ROCE of 8.7%. Ultimately, that's a low return and it under-performs the Electrical industry average of 11%.

See our latest analysis for Eaton

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In the above chart we have measured Eaton's prior ROCE against its prior performance, but the future is arguably more important. If you'd like to see what analysts are forecasting going forward, you should check out our free report for Eaton.

So How Is Eaton's ROCE Trending?

There hasn't been much to report for Eaton's returns and its level of capital employed because both metrics have been steady for the past five years. It's not uncommon to see this when looking at a mature and stable business that isn't re-investing its earnings because it has likely passed that phase of the business cycle. So unless we see a substantial change at Eaton in terms of ROCE and additional investments being made, we wouldn't hold our breath on it being a multi-bagger. This probably explains why Eaton is paying out 42% of its income to shareholders in the form of dividends. Unless businesses have highly compelling growth opportunities, they'll typically return some money to shareholders.

In Conclusion...

In a nutshell, Eaton has been trudging along with the same returns from the same amount of capital over the last five years. Yet to long term shareholders the stock has gifted them an incredible 197% return in the last five years, so the market appears to be rosy about its future. But if the trajectory of these underlying trends continue, we think the likelihood of it being a multi-bagger from here isn't high.

If you want to continue researching Eaton, you might be interested to know about the 2 warning signs that our analysis has discovered.

For those who like to invest in solid companies, check out this free list of companies with solid balance sheets and high returns on equity.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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