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Is American Public Education, Inc. (NASDAQ:APEI) Better Than Average At Deploying Capital?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate American Public Education, Inc. (NASDAQ:APEI) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. In particular, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. 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. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 American Public Education:

0.073 = US$23m ÷ (US$361m - US$46m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, American Public Education has an ROCE of 7.3%.

See our latest analysis for American Public Education

Is American Public Education's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see American Public Education's ROCE is around the 8.9% average reported by the Consumer Services industry. Separate from how American Public Education stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

American Public Education's current ROCE of 7.3% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 21% ROCE. This makes us wonder if the business is facing new challenges. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how American Public Education's past growth compares to other companies.

NasdaqGS:APEI Past Revenue and Net Income, December 12th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

American Public Education's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that need to be paid within 12 months. 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

American Public Education has total liabilities of US$46m and total assets of US$361m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 13% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

What We Can Learn From American Public Education's ROCE

That said, American Public Education's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. You might be able to find a better investment than American Public Education. 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).

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.