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Should Bouygues SA’s (EPA:EN) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

Hector Vargas

Today we’ll evaluate Bouygues SA (EPA:EN) 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 of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

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

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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 Bouygues:

0.064 = €1.2b ÷ (€38b – €19b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

So, Bouygues has an ROCE of 6.4%.

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Does Bouygues Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. Using our data, Bouygues’s ROCE appears to be significantly below the 9.9% average in the Construction industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Aside from the industry comparison, Bouygues’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

Our data shows that Bouygues currently has an ROCE of 6.4%, compared to its ROCE of 1.8% 3 years ago. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly.

ENXTPA:EN Last Perf January 15th 19

Remember that this metric is backwards looking – it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. 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 Bouygues.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Bouygues’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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Bouygues has total assets of €38b and current liabilities of €19b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 49% of its total assets. Bouygues’s ROCE is improved somewhat by its moderate amount of current liabilities.

Our Take On Bouygues’s ROCE

Despite this, its ROCE is still mediocre, and you may find more appealing investments elsewhere. Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Bouygues. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.