Here’s What Atmos Energy Corporation’s (NYSE:ATO) Return On Capital Can Tell Us

Today we are going to look at Atmos Energy Corporation (NYSE:ATO) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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 Atmos Energy:

0.063 = US$752m ÷ (US$13b – US$901m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Atmos Energy has an ROCE of 6.3%.

View our latest analysis for Atmos Energy

Is Atmos Energy’s ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. Using our data, Atmos Energy’s ROCE appears to be around the 5.6% average of the Gas Utilities industry. Aside from the industry comparison, Atmos Energy’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

NYSE:ATO Past Revenue and Net Income, August 22nd 2019
NYSE:ATO Past Revenue and Net Income, August 22nd 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Atmos Energy.

Do Atmos Energy’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.

Atmos Energy has total liabilities of US$901m and total assets of US$13b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 7.0% of its total assets. With low levels of current liabilities, at least Atmos Energy’s mediocre ROCE is not unduly boosted.

What We Can Learn From Atmos Energy’s ROCE

Based on this information, Atmos Energy appears to be a mediocre business. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

I will like Atmos Energy better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider 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.