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A Close Look At Forward Air Corporation’s (NASDAQ:FWRD) 16% ROCE

Simply Wall St

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Today we are going to look at Forward Air Corporation ( NASDAQ:FWRD ) 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. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

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

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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?

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 Forward Air:

0.16 = US$122m ÷ (US$886m - US$117m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, Forward Air has an ROCE of 16%.

Check out our latest analysis for Forward Air

Is Forward Air's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In our analysis, Forward Air's ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 10% average in the Logistics 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 Forward Air sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

NasdaqGS:FWRD Past Revenue and Net Income, May 9th 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. 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. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Forward Air .

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Forward Air's ROCE?

Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they need to be paid within 12 months. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Forward Air has total assets of US$886m and current liabilities of US$117m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 13% of its total assets. Current liabilities are minimal, limiting the impact on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Forward Air's ROCE

With that in mind, Forward Air's ROCE appears pretty good. There might be better investments than Forward Air out there, but you will have to work hard to find them . These promising businesses with rapidly growing earnings might be right up your alley.

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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.