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Is Rio Tinto Group’s (LON:RIO) 18% ROCE Any Good?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Rio Tinto Group (LON:RIO) 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.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding 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. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. Renowned investment researcher Michael Mauboussin has suggested that a high ROCE can indicate that 'one dollar invested in the company generates value of more than one dollar'.

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 Rio Tinto Group:

0.18 = US$14b ÷ (US$87b - US$11b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Rio Tinto Group has an ROCE of 18%.

View our latest analysis for Rio Tinto Group

Does Rio Tinto Group Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, we find that Rio Tinto Group's ROCE is meaningfully better than the 13% average in the Metals and Mining industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Separate from Rio Tinto Group's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

We can see that , Rio Tinto Group currently has an ROCE of 18% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 2.6%. This makes us wonder if the company is improving. You can see in the image below how Rio Tinto Group's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

LSE:RIO Past Revenue and Net Income, September 3rd 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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Remember that most companies like Rio Tinto Group are cyclical businesses. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Do Rio Tinto Group's Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

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

Rio Tinto Group has total assets of US$87b and current liabilities of US$11b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 13% of its total assets. Current liabilities are minimal, limiting the impact on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Rio Tinto Group's ROCE

Overall, Rio Tinto Group has a decent ROCE and could be worthy of further research. Rio Tinto Group shapes up well under this analysis, but it is far from the only business delivering excellent numbers . You might also want to check this free collection of companies delivering excellent earnings growth.

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.