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Return on Invested Capital (ROIC)

Guide to Understanding the Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) Concept

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Return on Invested Capital (ROIC)

In This Article
  • What does the return on invested capital (ROIC) metric represent?
  • What is the formula for calculating the return on invested capital (ROIC) of an investment?
  • Why is net operating profits after taxes (NOPAT) used in the ROIC formula?
  • Using WACC, how might you evaluate the quality of a company’s recent growth?

Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) Definition

The term ROIC stands for Return on Invested Capital and represents how well a company has put its capital to work in order to generate profitable returns on behalf of its shareholders and debt lenders.

Fundamentally, ROIC answers the question:

  • “How much in returns is the company earning for each dollar invested?”

Since the return metric is presented in the form of a percentage, the returns metric can be used to assess a company’s profitability as well as make comparisons to peer companies.

However, one of the more frequent use-cases of tracking the metric is for evaluating the judgment of the management team regarding capital allocation.

For companies attempting to raise capital from outside investors for the first time or raise additional funding, the ROIC is a very important KPI that can serve as “proof” that management is competent and can be relied upon to pursue and capitalize on profitable opportunities.

Capital Allocation Examples
  • Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A)
  • Targeted Marketing and Advertising Campaigns
  • Plans for Geographic or Markets Expansion
  • New Product Development (Research & Development)
  • Capital Expenditures (Purchases of PP&E)
  • New Employee Hiring and Team Building

ROIC Formula

The formula for calculating the return on invested capital consists of dividing the net operating profit after tax (NOPAT) by the amount of invested capital.

ROIC Formula
  • Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) = Net Operating Profit After Taxes (NOPAT) / Average Invested Capital

NOPAT is typically used in the numerator because it captures the recurring core operating profits and is an unlevered measure (i.e. unaffected by the capital structure).

Unlike metrics such as net income, NOPAT is the operating profits post-taxes and thus represents what is available for all equity and debt providers.

  • Return on Invested Capital (ROIC): The numerator is net operating profit after tax (NOPAT), which measures the earnings of a company prior to financing costs (i.e. capital structure neutral).
  • Invested Capital: As for the denominator, the invested capital represents the sources of funding raised to grow the company and run the day-to-day operations.

Capital refers to debt and equity financing, which are the two common sources of funds for companies that are used to invest in cash flow generative assets and derive economic benefits.

Invested Capital Formula
  • Invested Capital = Fixed Assets + Net Working Capital (NWC)

There are two routes to think about invested capital, but either approach is ultimately identical to the other due to double-entry accounting.

  1. The dollar amount of net assets a company needs to run its business.
  2. The dollar amount of funding provided by creditors and shareholders to finance the purchase of the company’s assets.

The alternative, simpler method to calculate the invested capital is to add the net debt (i.e. subtract cash & cash equivalents from the gross debt amount) and equity values from the balance sheet.

Note that cash and cash equivalents (e.g. marketable securities) are not operating assets and thereby excluded – along the same lines, all debt and interest-bearing securities are not considered operating liabilities, either.

Cash is considered to be “sitting idle” on the B/S and is thus not part of the core operations of a company.

ROIC Example Calculation

ROIC quantifies the profits that the company can generate for each dollar of capital invested into the company in the form of a percentage.

Simply put, the profits generated are compared to how much average capital was invested in the current and prior period.

If a company generated $10 million in profits and invested an average of $100 million in each of the past two years, the ROIC is equal to 10%.

  • $10m ÷ $100m = 10%

For instance, if the ROIC is 10%, that tells us the company generates $10 of net earnings with each $100 invested in the company.

Economic Moat and ROIC

ROIC is one method to determine whether or not a company has a defensible “economic moat”, which is the ability of a company to protect its profit margins and market share from new market entrants over the long run.

The overall objective of calculating the metric is to grasp a better understanding of how efficiently a company has been utilizing its operating capital (i.e. deployment of capital).

For investors in the public markets, the metric is frequently used to screen for potential investment, not just for retail investors but for institutional investors such as hedge funds — especially funds utilizing long-only, value-oriented strategies.

Economic Moats – Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet Moat

Warren Buffett Commentary on Economic Moats (Source: 2007 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter)

Finding public companies in the stock market with an actual “moat” and consistently above-market ROICs is without a doubt is easier said than done, but one that can yield high investment returns.

The reason that the ROIC concept tends to be prioritized by value investors is that the majority of investors purchase shares under the mindset of a long-term holding period.

Hence, the current earnings and cash flows are a relatively small component of the total net return — instead, the ability to reinvest those earnings to build real value is much more important.

Generally, the higher the return on invested capital (ROIC), the more likely the company is to achieve sustainable long-term value creation.

Companies with high returns on invested capital are more likely to continue employing capital thoughtfully to achieve returns in line with the past (or similar) – it is usually very rare to come across such opportunities at the right time and share price.


One common way to use ROIC as an investment decision-making tool is to compare the investment’s ROIC to its weighted average cost of capital (WACC).

Comparing the ROIC to the WACC can help decide whether or not the company creates sufficient value for its stakeholders.

ROIC General Rules

If the ROIC is higher than the WACC, that means the company creates positive value, whereas if the ROIC is lower than the WACC, that means the company’s value is declining.

  • If ROIC > WACC → Invest
  • If ROIC < WACC → Pass

Companies that generate an ROIC above their cost of capital implies the management team can allocate capital efficiently and invest in profitable projects, which is a competitive advantage in itself.

When investors screen for potential investments, the minimum ROIC tends to be set between 10% and 15%, but this will be firm-specific and depend on the type of strategy employed.

Firm Value Creation Methods
  1. Invest in High Return, “Value Creating” Projects (ROIC > WACC)
  2. Capital Efficiency – e.g. Higher Asset Turnover, Higher Inventory Turnover
  3. Optimize Capital Structure — i.e. Potentially Lower WACC from Issuance of Debt
  4. Put End to “Value Destroying” Projects

Value Drivers of ROIC

From the expanded formula of ROIC, we can see the value is the product of:

  • Invested Capital Turnover — “How much revenue does each dollar of invested capital generate?”
  • Margins — “How much in profits are retained after deducting the cost of goods sold (COGS) and operating expenses (OpEx) to arrive at operating income (EBIT), which is then tax-affected?
ROIC Components
  • ROIC Components = (Revenue / Average Invested Capital) x (NOPAT / Revenue)

NWC affects the invested capital since if operating assets increase, invested capital increases as well – which in turn decreases the metric (i.e. more spending is needed to sustain or increase growth).

Conversely, if operating liabilities were to increase, ROIC would increase because NWC is lower.

A higher return on invested capital can be considered an indication that a company is required to spend less to generate more profit.

  • Profitable Returns on Invested Capital (ROIC) → Positive Value Creation and Shareholder Returns

The higher the profit margins of the company, the higher the return on invested capital, as the company can convert more revenue into profits, or NOPAT, to be more specific.

Misconceptions in Interpreting Growth

Contrary to a common misunderstanding, growth is not always a positive signal for a company.

The question that must be asked is: “At what cost was the growth obtained?”

Often, companies will make significant investments to expand, but if the ROIC is lower than the cost of capital (WACC), the CapEx destroyed value as opposed to creating shareholder value.

Growth Comparison

In Scenario A, the change in invested capital was $25m more for an increase of $5m in NOPAT.

In contrast, in Scenario B, the NOPAT increased $5m too but $150m was spent, so focusing on the growth in NOPAT by itself would be misleading in the latter case.

ROIC Calculator – Excel Template

We’ll now move to a modeling exercise, which you can access by filling out the form below.

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Model Assumptions of ROIC Calculation

In our example modeling exercise, we’ll be using the following assumptions.

NOPAT Assumptions

Financial Assumptions

  • Year 0 Revenue: $200m
  • Year 0 Operating Income (EBIT): $50m
  • Tax Rate: 30%

From Year 0 to Year 5, revenue is projected to grow $2m per year while EBIT grows $4m per year under the same time horizon, as shown below. To reflect this, we’ll use step functions as seen in the right side of the model.


The NOPAT margin (% of revenue) expands from 17.5% in Year 0 to 23.3% in Year 5.

Based on these sets of assumptions, note the growth of NOPAT is outpacing revenue, which will increase the likelihood of ROIC increasing – unless the invested capital offsets the margin expansion.

Invested Capital Calculation

Next, we’ll calculate the invested capital, which represents the net operating assets used to generate cash flow.

For the working capital schedule and fixed assets forecast, the following assumptions will be used:

Invested Capital Assumptions

Net Working Capital Assumptions

  • Accounts Receivable (A/R): $80m
  • Inventories: $50m
  • Accounts Payable (A/P): $40m
  • Other Current Liabilities: $10m

Fixed Asset Assumptions

  • PP&E: $260m

The company’s net working capital (NWC) can be calculated by subtracting the current liabilities (excluding debt and interest-bearing securities) from the current assets (excluding cash & cash equivalents).

All operating current assets are projected to decline by $2m each year, whereas the operating current liabilities are forecasted to grow by $2m each year. And the PP&E balance will grow by $5m each year.

Invested Capital Excel

ROIC Example Calculation

Once the entire forecast has been filled, we can calculate the ROIC in each period by dividing NOPAT by the average between the current and prior period invested capital balance.

ROIC Excel Formula

Starting from Year 1 to Year 5, we can see an increase from 11.2% to 15.0%, which is caused by the increased profit margins and the increase in operating current liabilities.

Since the invested capital is declining while the revenue and NOPAT are growing at a higher pace, the ROIC is rising because more value is being derived from the invested capital.

The takeaway here is that the more revenue generated per dollar of invested capital and the higher the profit margins, the higher the return on invested capital will be — all else being equal.

In the final step, we multiply the NOPAT margin % by the average invested capital balance of the current and prior year to get the same ROICs, which confirms our calculations were done correctly.


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