Does RPM International Pass Buffett's Test?

We'd all like to invest like the legendary Warren Buffett, turning thousands into millions or more. Buffett analyzes companies by calculating return on invested capital (ROIC) in order to help determine whether a company has an economic moat -- the ability to earn returns on its money above that money's cost.

ROIC is perhaps the most important metric in value investing. By determining a company's ROIC, you can see how well it's using the cash you entrust to it and whether it's actually creating value for you. Simply, it divides a company's operating profit by how much investment it took to get that profit. The formula is

ROIC = Net operating profit after taxes / Invested capital

The nuances of the formula are explained in further detail here. This one-size-fits-all calculation cuts out many of the legal accounting tricks (such as excessive debt) that managers use to boost earnings numbers, and provides you with an apples-to-apples way to evaluate businesses, even across industries. The higher the ROIC, the more efficient the company uses capital.

Ultimately, we're looking for companies that can invest their money at rates that are higher than the cost of capital, which for most businesses is between 8% and 12%. Ideally, we want to see ROIC above 12%, at a minimum, and a history of increasing returns, or at least steady returns, which indicate some durability to the company's economic moat.

Let's take a look at RPM International (NYS: RPM) and three of its industry peers, to see how efficiently they use cash. Here are the ROIC figures for each company over a few periods.



1 year ago

3 years ago

5 years ago

RPM International





PPG Industries (NYS: PPG)





HB Fuller (NYS: FUL)





Albemarle (NYS: ALB)





Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

* Because RPM did not report an effective tax rate, we used its 31.5% rate from 1 year ago.

** Because PPG did not report an effective tax rate, we used its 30% rate from 3 years ago.

*** Because ALB did not report an effective tax rate, we used its 17% rate from 1 year ago.

RPM International's returns on invested capital have remained relatively constant over the past 5 years, with current returns above where they were 5 years ago, suggesting that it is maintaining its competitive position. Two of the other listed companies also show slight growth in their returns from 5 years ago, but with more fluctuation in the interim. Albemarle, on the other hand, has more than doubled its ROIC from 5 years ago, with steady growth in the interim - exactly the kind of trend we like to see.

Businesses with consistently high ROIC show that they're efficiently using capital. They also have the ability to treat shareholders well, because they can then use their extra cash to pay out dividends to us, buy back shares, or further invest in their franchise. And healthy and growing dividends are something that Warren Buffett has long loved.

So for more successful investments, dig a little deeper than the earnings headlines to find the company's ROIC. If you'd like to add these companies to your Watchlist, click below:

Jim Royal, Ph.D., does not own shares of any company mentioned here.Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

At the time thisarticle was published

Copyright © 1995 - 2011 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.