U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 4 mins

Should Autogrill S.p.A.’s (BIT:AGL) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Autogrill S.p.A. (BIT:AGL) 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.

First of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

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. 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'.

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 Autogrill:

0.049 = €198m ÷ (€5.4b - €1.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Autogrill has an ROCE of 4.9%.

View our latest analysis for Autogrill

Is Autogrill's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In this analysis, Autogrill's ROCE appears meaningfully below the 7.4% average reported by the Hospitality industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Putting aside Autogrill's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is poor - considering the risk of owning stocks compared to government bonds. It is likely that there are more attractive prospects out there.

We can see that, Autogrill currently has an ROCE of 4.9%, less than the 15% it reported 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently. The image below shows how Autogrill's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

BIT:AGL Past Revenue and Net Income, October 21st 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Autogrill.

Do Autogrill's Current Liabilities Skew 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 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Autogrill has total liabilities of €1.3b and total assets of €5.4b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 24% of its total assets. This is not a high level of current liabilities, which would not boost the ROCE by much.

What We Can Learn From Autogrill's ROCE

Autogrill has a poor ROCE, and there may be better investment prospects out there. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

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.