Are Alphabet Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOG.L) High Returns Really That Great?

Today we’ll look at Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG.L) and reflect on its potential as an investment. To be precise, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

First, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Then we’ll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a measure of a company’s yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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?

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 Alphabet:

0.15 = US$33b ÷ (US$257b – US$37b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Alphabet has an ROCE of 15%.

See our latest analysis for Alphabet

Does Alphabet Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Alphabet’s ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 8.7% average in the Interactive Media and Services 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 Alphabet sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

NasdaqGS:GOOG.L Past Revenue and Net Income, September 12th 2019
NasdaqGS:GOOG.L Past Revenue and Net Income, September 12th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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 Alphabet.

How Alphabet’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 ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Alphabet has total assets of US$257b and current liabilities of US$37b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 14% of its total assets. Current liabilities are minimal, limiting the impact on ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Alphabet’s ROCE

With that in mind, Alphabet’s ROCE appears pretty good. Alphabet 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.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are 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.