Is PetroChina Company Limited’s (HKG:857) 6.4% Return On Capital Employed Good News?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at PetroChina Company Limited (HKG:857) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

Firstly, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. 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. 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?

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 PetroChina:

0.064 = CN¥131b ÷ (CN¥2.7t - CN¥649b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, PetroChina has an ROCE of 6.4%.

See our latest analysis for PetroChina

Is PetroChina's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, PetroChina's ROCE appears to be around the 7.6% average of the Oil and Gas industry. Aside from the industry comparison, PetroChina's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

In our analysis, PetroChina's ROCE appears to be 6.4%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 3.5%. This makes us think the business might be improving. The image below shows how PetroChina's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

SEHK:857 Past Revenue and Net Income, February 27th 2020

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 only a point-in-time measure. Remember that most companies like PetroChina are cyclical businesses. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect PetroChina's 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

PetroChina has current liabilities of CN¥649b and total assets of CN¥2.7t. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 24% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

What We Can Learn From PetroChina's ROCE

That said, PetroChina's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. 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 are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are 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.

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. Thank you for reading.