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Shareholders Should Look Hard At National Express Group PLC’s (LON:NEX) 10% Return On Capital

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate National Express Group PLC (LON:NEX) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting 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. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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.'

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 National Express Group:

0.10 = UK£243m ÷ (UK£4.1b - UK£1.6b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, National Express Group has an ROCE of 10%.

Check out our latest analysis for National Express Group

Is National Express Group's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. Using our data, National Express Group's ROCE appears to be significantly below the 13% average in the Transportation industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Regardless of where National Express Group sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

You can see in the image below how National Express Group's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

LSE:NEX Past Revenue and Net Income, July 31st 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 only a point-in-time measure. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Do National Express 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 ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

National Express Group has total liabilities of UK£1.6b and total assets of UK£4.1b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 40% of its total assets. National Express Group has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost the ROCE.

What We Can Learn From National Express Group's ROCE

National Express Group's ROCE does look good, but the level of current liabilities also contribute to that. National Express 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.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

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.