Why Lithia Motors, Inc.’s (NYSE:LAD) Return On Capital Employed Is Impressive

Today we’ll look at Lithia Motors, Inc. (NYSE:LAD) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

First, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE 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. 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.

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 Lithia Motors:

0.15 = US$483m ÷ (US$5.7b – US$2.5b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, Lithia Motors has an ROCE of 15%.

Check out our latest analysis for Lithia Motors

Is Lithia Motors’s ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, we find that Lithia Motors’s ROCE is meaningfully better than the 11% average in the Specialty Retail industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Regardless of where Lithia Motors sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

Lithia Motors’s current ROCE of 15% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 20%, 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Lithia Motors’s past growth compares to other companies.

NYSE:LAD Past Revenue and Net Income, February 3rd 2020
NYSE:LAD Past Revenue and Net Income, February 3rd 2020

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. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Lithia Motors.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Lithia Motors’s 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Lithia Motors has total assets of US$5.7b and current liabilities of US$2.5b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 43% of its total assets. Lithia Motors has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost the ROCE.

Our Take On Lithia Motors’s ROCE

With a decent ROCE, the company could be interesting, but remember that the level of current liabilities make the ROCE look better. Lithia Motors 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.