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Is ACCO Brands Corporation (NYSE:ACCO) Investing Effectively In Its Business?

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at ACCO Brands Corporation (NYSE:ACCO) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First up, we'll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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?

The formula for calculating the return on capital employed is:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)

Or for ACCO Brands:

0.097 = US$213m ÷ (US$2.8b - US$599m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, ACCO Brands has an ROCE of 9.7%.

Check out our latest analysis for ACCO Brands

Is ACCO Brands's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. It appears that ACCO Brands's ROCE is fairly close to the Commercial Services industry average of 10%. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, ACCO Brands's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

NYSE:ACCO Past Revenue and Net Income, April 10th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

ACCO Brands's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. 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.

ACCO Brands has total assets of US$2.8b and current liabilities of US$599m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 22% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From ACCO Brands's ROCE

With that in mind, we're not overly impressed with ACCO Brands's ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. You might be able to find a better buy than ACCO Brands. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.