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Century Aluminum Company’s (NASDAQ:CENX) Investment Returns Are Lagging Its Industry

Alex Johannesen

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Today we’ll look at Century Aluminum Company (NASDAQ:CENX) 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.

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.

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. 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’.

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 Century Aluminum:

0.03 = US$81m ÷ (US$1.6b – US$231m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Therefore, Century Aluminum has an ROCE of 3.0%.

View our latest analysis for Century Aluminum

Does Century Aluminum Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. We can see Century Aluminum’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Metals and Mining industry average of 11%. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Independently of how Century Aluminum compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is low; especially compared to the ~2.7% available in government bonds. Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

Century Aluminum’s current ROCE of 3.0% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 6.4%, 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

NASDAQGS:CENX Last Perf February 14th 19

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. We note Century Aluminum could be considered a cyclical business. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Century Aluminum.

Do Century Aluminum’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Century Aluminum has total liabilities of US$231m and total assets of US$1.6b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 14% of its total assets. With a very reasonable level of current liabilities, so the impact on ROCE is fairly minimal.

Our Take On Century Aluminum’s ROCE

While that is good to see, Century Aluminum has a low ROCE and does not look attractive in this analysis. You might be able to find a better buy than Century Aluminum. 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).

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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.