Walmart Inc. (NYSE:WMT) Earns Among The Best Returns In Its Industry

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Today we’ll look at Walmart Inc. (NYSE:WMT) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we’re going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First up, we’ll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Then we’ll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

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. 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.’

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 Walmart:

0.16 = US$22b ÷ (US$227b – US$86b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to October 2018.)

So, Walmart has an ROCE of 16%.

View our latest analysis for Walmart

Does Walmart Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In our analysis, Walmart’s ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 9.6% average in the Consumer Retailing industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Independently of how Walmart compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears decent, and the company may be worthy of closer investigation.

NYSE:WMT Last Perf February 5th 19
NYSE:WMT Last Perf February 5th 19

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 deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Walmart.

How Walmart’s Current Liabilities Impact 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 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.

Walmart has total liabilities of US$86b and total assets of US$227b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 38% of its total assets. With this level of current liabilities, Walmart’s ROCE is boosted somewhat.

Our Take On Walmart’s ROCE

Walmart’s ROCE does look good, but the level of current liabilities also contribute to that. You might be able to find a better buy than Walmart. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

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To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.