Do Kansas City Southern’s (NYSE:KSU) Returns On Capital Employed Make The Cut?

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Today we are going to look at Kansas City Southern (NYSE:KSU) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. To be precise, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

Firstly, 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.

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

ROCE measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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.’

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 Kansas City Southern:

0.11 = US$978m ÷ (US$9.6b – US$481m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, Kansas City Southern has an ROCE of 11%.

View our latest analysis for Kansas City Southern

Is Kansas City Southern’s ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. We can see Kansas City Southern’s ROCE is around the 11% average reported by the Transportation industry. Separate from how Kansas City Southern stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

NYSE:KSU Past Revenue and Net Income, May 30th 2019
NYSE:KSU Past Revenue and Net Income, May 30th 2019

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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Kansas City Southern.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Kansas City Southern’s ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Kansas City Southern has total liabilities of US$481m and total assets of US$9.6b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 5.0% of its total assets. Kansas City Southern has a low level of current liabilities, which have a minimal impact on its uninspiring ROCE.

Our Take On Kansas City Southern’s ROCE

Based on this information, Kansas City Southern appears to be a mediocre business. 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.

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.