Why You Should Like Union Pacific Corporation’s (NYSE:UNP) ROCE

Today we’ll evaluate Union Pacific Corporation (NYSE:UNP) 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.

First of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on 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. Renowned investment researcher Michael Mauboussin has suggested that a high ROCE can indicate that ‘one dollar invested in the company generates value of more than one dollar’.

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 Union Pacific:

0.15 = US$8.6b ÷ (US$62b – US$4.4b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2019.)

So, Union Pacific has an ROCE of 15%.

View our latest analysis for Union Pacific

Does Union Pacific Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Union Pacific’s ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 11% average in the Transportation industry. I think that’s good to see, since it implies the company is better than other companies at making the most of its capital. Regardless of where Union Pacific 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 Union Pacific’s ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:UNP Past Revenue and Net Income, March 12th 2020
NYSE:UNP Past Revenue and Net Income, March 12th 2020

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Union Pacific.

Do Union Pacific’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. 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Union Pacific has total assets of US$62b and current liabilities of US$4.4b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 7.1% of its total assets. In addition to low current liabilities (making a negligible impact on ROCE), Union Pacific earns a sound return on capital employed.

The Bottom Line On Union Pacific’s ROCE

This is good to see, and while better prospects may exist, Union Pacific seems worth researching further. Union Pacific 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.

Union Pacific is not the only stock insiders are buying. So take a peek at this free list of growing companies with insider buying.

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.

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