A Close Look At Associated British Foods plc’s (LON:ABF) 12% ROCE

Today we’ll evaluate Associated British Foods plc (LON:ABF) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. In particular, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Then we’ll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

What is 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. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 Associated British Foods:

0.12 = UK£1.3b ÷ (UK£14b – UK£3.1b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, Associated British Foods has an ROCE of 12%.

Check out our latest analysis for Associated British Foods

Is Associated British Foods’s ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, we find that Associated British Foods’s ROCE is meaningfully better than the 9.4% average in the Food industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Independently of how Associated British Foods compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears decent, and the company may be worthy of closer investigation.

You can see in the image below how Associated British Foods’s ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

LSE:ABF Past Revenue and Net Income, December 30th 2019
LSE:ABF Past Revenue and Net Income, December 30th 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking – it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Do Associated British Foods’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 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Associated British Foods has total liabilities of UK£3.1b and total assets of UK£14b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 22% of its total assets. Current liabilities are minimal, limiting the impact on ROCE.

Our Take On Associated British Foods’s ROCE

Overall, Associated British Foods has a decent ROCE and could be worthy of further research. Associated British Foods looks strong on this analysis, but there are plenty of other companies that could be a good opportunity . Here is a free list of companies growing earnings rapidly.

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.