Return on Invested Capital (ROIC)


Return on Invested Capital or ROIC attempts to measure the returns earned on the capital invested by a company. It is a profitability ratio, and it measures the return generated for those who have provided capital to the company. ROIC evaluates how good a company is at allocating capital and generating maximum profits.

Explanation of ROIC

In order to increase earnings, a company has to invest in its capacity for the production of goods and services. This investment may be in plant and machinery, technology, inventory, supply chain, etc. For every dollar that the company spends, it can expect an additional level of earnings in the future. For example, a company that earns $1 spends $1 to buy additional inventory. This additional inventory is then sold @ say, for $1.10 the following year. This means the company has earned a “return on invested capital” (ROIC) of 10%.

Formula and Calculation

Calculating ROIC can be a little complicated as the formula contains nonstandard values. This means that one cannot get values in any standard financial statements. They must be calculated.

The formula for Return on Invested Capital (ROIC)

ROIC = Operating Income (1-tax rate) / Book Value of Invested Capital

There are five key components of this formula.

  • The first component is the use of operating income instead of net income in the numerator.
  • The second is the tax adjustment to this operating income
  • The third component is using book values instead of market values for invested capital.
  • Fourth is the book value of invested capital. It includes the book value of the company’s equity + book values of its debt less non-operating assets (which includes cash and cash equivalents, marketable securities, and assets of discontinued operations)
  • The last component is the timing difference. This means the capital invested is from the end of the previous year, whereas the operating income is from the current year.

Practical Issues in Calculating Return on Invested Capital

Even though calculating ROIC is conceptually straightforward, there are many practical issues that need consideration. This is mainly because invested capital doesn’t consider intangible assets such as goodwill or money spent on the development of human capital and the like. Even though such investments increase operating income and are reflected in cash flow, they are not reflected in ROIC.

Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) vs. Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC)

A truly great business must have an enduring “moat” that protects excellent returns on invested capital.”

– Warren Buffet Shareholders letter, 2007

In the above sentence, Warren Buffet tries to explain the importance of ROIC in determining a company’s “competitive advantage,” which in Warren Buffet’s words is “moat.” Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) by itself doesn’t tell much about a company’s competitive advantage in the market. A company creates value for its investor only if its ROIC is higher than its weighted average cost of capital (WACC). WACC measures the required return on the company’s debt and equity. It also considers the risk of the company’s operations & its use of debt. Generally, companies that generate ROICs higher than their WACC for many years create values for their investors and have a competitive advantage in the sector.

Return on Invested Capital (ROIC) vs. Return on Shareholder’s Equity (ROE)

When a company’s ROIC is lower than the return on shareholder’s equity (ROE), it exhibits that the company’s returns are the result of the use of borrowed money, i.e., leverage. Borrowed money can boost returns when markets are bullish, and everything is working out well.  As soon as the markets slow down or face even minor dips, such leveraged companies will feel the sting. Especially during the credit crisis, if the borrowing costs rise, a highly leveraged company will see its ROIC fall.

Read more about RETURN ON EQUITY.


Return on invested capital (ROIC) is an extremely powerful tool. It looks at earnings power relative to the amount of capital that is tied up in a business. It’s easy to grow earnings by pumping more money into a business, but it’s a lot tougher to do so without affecting ROIC. Even though a positive ROIC is a good indicator of a company’s competitive advantage, it is important to look at the company holistically before coming to any conclusion. Especially qualitative factors such as high barriers to entry, huge market share, low-cost production, corporate culture, patents, or high customer switching costs, which create an economic moat around a company’s profits, should be considered.

It is also important to note that achieving a high ROIC may be easy but maintaining an ROIC above WACC is not an easy task. If a company earns a high ROIC in a particular market, it will naturally attract competition until excess returns are eroded away. It is the most natural economic phenomenon. It is important to ask questions such as – How does current ROIC compare to historical ROIC? For the companies in which ROIC is high, what are the chances of maintaining it?

Sanjay Borad

Sanjay Bulaki Borad

MBA-Finance, CMA, CS, Insolvency Professional, B'Com

Sanjay Borad, Founder of eFinanceManagement, is a Management Consultant with 7 years of MNC experience and 11 years in Consultancy. He caters to clients with turnovers from 200 Million to 12,000 Million, including listed entities, and has vast industry experience in over 20 sectors. Additionally, he serves as a visiting faculty for Finance and Costing in MBA Colleges and CA, CMA Coaching Classes.

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