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Brickworks Limited’s (ASX:BKW) Investment Returns Are Lagging Its Industry

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at Brickworks Limited (ASX:BKW) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting 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. 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 Brickworks:

0.029 = AU$82m ÷ (AU$3.1b - AU$262m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to July 2019.)

So, Brickworks has an ROCE of 2.9%.

See our latest analysis for Brickworks

Is Brickworks's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. We can see Brickworks's ROCE is meaningfully below the Basic Materials industry average of 9.6%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Putting aside Brickworks's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is poor - considering the risk of owning stocks compared to government bonds. Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

The image below shows how Brickworks's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

ASX:BKW Past Revenue and Net Income, January 1st 2020

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Brickworks.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Brickworks's ROCE?

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, 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.

Brickworks has total liabilities of AU$262m and total assets of AU$3.1b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 8.5% of its total assets. Brickworks has a low level of current liabilities, which have a negligible impact on its already low ROCE.

Our Take On Brickworks's ROCE

Still, investors could probably find more attractive prospects with better performance 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.

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.