Return on capital employed (ROCE) is a good baseline measure of a company's performance. ROCE is a financial ratio that shows if a company is doing a good job of generating profits from its capital. Companies have various financial resources they use to build and grow their businesses. This capital creates wealth through investment and can include such things as a company's marketable securities, production machinery, land, software, patents, and brand names.

How a company chooses to allocate its capital assets can directly impact its performance. In many cases, it can mean the difference between the company generating a positive financial return or losing money. ROCE is a valuable tool for measuring this.

Key Takeaways

  • Return on capital employed (ROCE) is a financial ratio companies use to gauge their performance.
  • ROCE is an indicator of a company's efficiency because it measures the company's profitability after factoring in the capital used to achieve that profitability.
  • The formula for ROCE is earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) divided by the capital employed.
  • Investors and analysts often use ROCE as a useful tool when researching a company as a possible investment.
  • ROCE is particularly effective in comparing companies in capital-intensive industries, such as oil and gas companies.

Understanding Return on Capital Employed (ROCE)

While companies use ROCE as a useful metric to gauge their performance, they aren't the only ones who can benefit from it. Analysts, shareholders, and prospective investors all use ROCE as a reliable measure of corporate performance when analyzing a company for investment. ROCE is especially useful when comparing businesses within the same industry. It is best employed in conjunction with other performance measures rather than looked at in isolation. 

ROCE is one of several profitability ratios used to evaluate a company's performance. It is designed to show how efficiently a company makes use of its available capital by looking at the net profit generated in relation to every dollar of capital utilized by the company. In addition to ROCE, companies may also review other key return ratios when analyzing their performance, such as return on assets (ROA), return on equity (ROE), and return on invested capital (ROIC).

ROCE Formula

The formula used to calculate ROCE is as follows: 

ROCE=EBITCapital Employedwhere:ROCE=Return on capital employedEBIT=Earnings before interest and tax\begin{aligned} &\text{ROCE} = \frac{ \text{EBIT} }{ \text{Capital Employed} }\\ &\textbf{where:}\\ &\text{ROCE} = \text{Return on capital employed}\\ &\text{EBIT} = \text{Earnings before interest and tax}\\ \end{aligned}ROCE=Capital EmployedEBITwhere:ROCE=Return on capital employedEBIT=Earnings before interest and tax

You can find a company's earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) on its income statement. Some analysts use net profit rather than EBIT to do the calculation. You can calculate capital employed from a company's balance sheet.

ROCE is a useful measure of financial efficiency since it measures profitability after factoring in the amount of capital used to create that level of profitability. Comparing ROCE to basic profit margin calculations can show the value of looking at ROCE.

ROCE Versus Basic Profit Margin Example

For example, consider two companies, one with a 10% profit margin and the other with a 15% profit margin. The second company appears to be performing better. However, if the second company uses twice as much capital to generate its profit, it is actually a less financially efficient company because it is not making maximum use of its revenues. A higher ROCE shows a higher percentage of the company's value can ultimately be returned as profit to stockholders.

As a general rule, to indicate a company makes reasonably efficient use of capital, the ROCE should be equal to at least twice current interest rates.

The Bottom Line

ROCE is a useful metric of financial performance and has been shown to be particularly helpful in comparisons between companies engaged in capital-intensive industry sectors. It has gained a strong reputation as a benchmark financial tool for evaluating oil and gas companies.

However, no performance metric is perfect, and ROCE is most effectively used with other measures, such as return on equity (ROE). ROCE is not the best evaluation for companies with large, unused cash reserves.