Why We Like American Water Works Company, Inc.’s (NYSE:AWK) 5.9% Return On Capital Employed

Today we’ll look at American Water Works Company, Inc. (NYSE:AWK) 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. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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?

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 American Water Works Company:

0.059 = US$1.2b ÷ (US$24b – US$2.8b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2020.)

So, American Water Works Company has an ROCE of 5.9%.

View our latest analysis for American Water Works Company

Is American Water Works Company’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. In our analysis, American Water Works Company’s ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 4.0% average in the Water Utilities industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, American Water Works Company’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

You can see in the image below how American Water Works Company’s ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:AWK Past Revenue and Net Income May 9th 2020
NYSE:AWK Past Revenue and Net Income May 9th 2020

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for American Water Works Company.

American Water Works Company’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

American Water Works Company has total assets of US$24b and current liabilities of US$2.8b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 12% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From American Water Works Company’s ROCE

With that in mind, we’re not overly impressed with American Water Works Company’s ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. 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.

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.