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Are Alaska Communications Systems Group, Inc.’s Returns On Capital Worth Investigating?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Alaska Communications Systems Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:ALSK) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the 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'.

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 Alaska Communications Systems Group:

0.059 = US$24m ÷ (US$455m - US$47m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Alaska Communications Systems Group has an ROCE of 5.9%.

See our latest analysis for Alaska Communications Systems Group

Does Alaska Communications Systems Group Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, Alaska Communications Systems Group's ROCE appears to be around the 7.0% average of the Telecom industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Alaska Communications Systems Group'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.

Our data shows that Alaska Communications Systems Group currently has an ROCE of 5.9%, compared to its ROCE of 2.9% 3 years ago. This makes us wonder if the company is improving.

NasdaqGS:ALSK Past Revenue and Net Income, April 23rd 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. How cyclical is Alaska Communications Systems Group? You can see for yourself by looking at 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?

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. Due to the way ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Alaska Communications Systems Group has total liabilities of US$47m and total assets of US$455m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 10% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

Our Take On Alaska Communications Systems Group's ROCE

That said, Alaska Communications Systems Group's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. You might be able to find a better investment than Alaska Communications Systems Group. 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).

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.