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Is Alaska Communications Systems Group, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ALSK) Return On Capital Employed Any Good?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Alaska Communications Systems Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:ALSK) and reflect on its potential as an investment. To be precise, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

Firstly, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. 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 'return' (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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'.

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 Alaska Communications Systems Group:

0.043 = US$21m ÷ (US$546m - US$52m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, Alaska Communications Systems Group has an ROCE of 4.3%.

See our latest analysis for Alaska Communications Systems Group

Is Alaska Communications Systems Group's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. It appears that Alaska Communications Systems Group's ROCE is fairly close to the Telecom industry average of 5.3%. Regardless of how Alaska Communications Systems Group stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is quite low (especially compared to a bank account). It is likely that there are more attractive prospects out there.

You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Alaska Communications Systems Group's past growth compares to other companies.

NasdaqGS:ALSK Past Revenue and Net Income, January 20th 2020
NasdaqGS:ALSK Past Revenue and Net Income, January 20th 2020

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. ROCE can be misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the busts. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. If Alaska Communications Systems Group is cyclical, it could make sense to check out this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Alaska Communications Systems Group's ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that need to be paid within 12 months. Due to the way the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Alaska Communications Systems Group has total liabilities of US$52m and total assets of US$546m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 9.6% of its total assets. With barely any current liabilities, there is minimal impact on Alaska Communications Systems Group's admittedly low ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Alaska Communications Systems Group's ROCE

Nonetheless, there may be better places to invest your capital. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

There are plenty of other companies that have insiders buying up shares. You probably do not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.