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Returns On Capital Signal Tricky Times Ahead For Coles Group (ASX:COL)

What trends should we look for it we want to identify stocks that can multiply in value over the long term? Firstly, we'd want to identify a growing return on capital employed (ROCE) and then alongside that, an ever-increasing base of capital employed. If you see this, it typically means it's a company with a great business model and plenty of profitable reinvestment opportunities. However, after briefly looking over the numbers, we don't think Coles Group (ASX:COL) has the makings of a multi-bagger going forward, but let's have a look at why that may be.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

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. Analysts use this formula to calculate it for Coles Group:

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

0.14 = AU$1.7b ÷ (AU$19b - AU$6.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to January 2022).

Thus, Coles Group has an ROCE of 14%. That's a pretty standard return and it's in line with the industry average of 14%.

Check out our latest analysis for Coles Group


In the above chart we have measured Coles Group's prior ROCE against its prior performance, but the future is arguably more important. If you'd like, you can check out the forecasts from the analysts covering Coles Group here for free.

How Are Returns Trending?

When we looked at the ROCE trend at Coles Group, we didn't gain much confidence. To be more specific, ROCE has fallen from 24% over the last three years. However it looks like Coles Group might be reinvesting for long term growth because while capital employed has increased, the company's sales haven't changed much in the last 12 months. It may take some time before the company starts to see any change in earnings from these investments.

On a side note, Coles Group has done well to pay down its current liabilities to 34% of total assets. That could partly explain why the ROCE has dropped. Effectively this means their suppliers or short-term creditors are funding less of the business, which reduces some elements of risk. Since the business is basically funding more of its operations with it's own money, you could argue this has made the business less efficient at generating ROCE.

In Conclusion...

To conclude, we've found that Coles Group is reinvesting in the business, but returns have been falling. Although the market must be expecting these trends to improve because the stock has gained 55% over the last three years. Ultimately, if the underlying trends persist, we wouldn't hold our breath on it being a multi-bagger going forward.

On a separate note, we've found 1 warning sign for Coles Group you'll probably want to know about.

While Coles Group isn't earning the highest return, check out this free list of companies that are earning high returns on equity with solid balance sheets.

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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.