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Alliance Data Systems Corporation (NYSE:ADS) Might Not Be A Great Investment

Amar Chadha

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Today we’ll evaluate Alliance Data Systems Corporation (NYSE:ADS) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a measure of a company’s yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since ‘No two businesses are exactly alike.’

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

Analysts use this formula to calculate return on capital employed:

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

Or for Alliance Data Systems:

0.074 = US$1.5b ÷ (US$30b – US$10.0b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Alliance Data Systems has an ROCE of 7.4%.

See our latest analysis for Alliance Data Systems

Does Alliance Data Systems Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. We can see Alliance Data Systems’s ROCE is meaningfully below the IT industry average of 10%. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Alliance Data Systems’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:ADS Past Revenue and Net Income, February 21st 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Alliance Data Systems.

Alliance Data Systems’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Alliance Data Systems has total liabilities of US$10.0b and total assets of US$30b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 33% of its total assets. Alliance Data Systems has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost its ROCE somewhat.

What We Can Learn From Alliance Data Systems’s ROCE

Unfortunately, its ROCE is still uninspiring, and there are potentially more attractive prospects out there. But note: Alliance Data Systems may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

I will like Alliance Data Systems better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

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.