Why Amazon.com, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Return On Capital Employed Is Impressive

Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and you could win a $250 gift card!

Today we’ll evaluate Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. In particular, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First up, we’ll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. 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 ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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’.

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 Amazon.com:

0.13 = US$12b ÷ (US$163b – US$68b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Amazon.com has an ROCE of 13%.

See our latest analysis for Amazon.com

Does Amazon.com Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, we find that Amazon.com’s ROCE is meaningfully better than the 9.4% average in the Online Retail industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Separate from Amazon.com’s performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

In our analysis, Amazon.com’s ROCE appears to be 13%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 7.3%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly.

NASDAQGS:AMZN Last Perf February 7th 19
NASDAQGS:AMZN Last Perf February 7th 19

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Amazon.com.

Do Amazon.com’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they 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.

Amazon.com has total assets of US$163b and current liabilities of US$68b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 42% of its total assets. With this level of current liabilities, Amazon.com’s ROCE is boosted somewhat.

Our Take On Amazon.com’s ROCE

With a decent ROCE, the company could be interesting, but remember that the level of current liabilities make the ROCE look better. But note: Amazon.com may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.