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Does Barrett Business Services, Inc. (NASDAQ:BBSI) Create Value For Shareholders?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Barrett Business Services, Inc. (NASDAQ:BBSI) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

Firstly, 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.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the 'return' (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since 'No two businesses are exactly alike.

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 Barrett Business Services:

0.10 = US$49m ÷ (US$834m - US$348m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Barrett Business Services has an ROCE of 10%.

See our latest analysis for Barrett Business Services

Is Barrett Business Services's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. It appears that Barrett Business Services's ROCE is fairly close to the Professional Services industry average of 12%. Aside from the industry comparison, Barrett Business Services's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

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

NasdaqGS:BBSI Past Revenue and Net Income, November 4th 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Barrett Business Services.

Barrett Business Services's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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. 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Barrett Business Services has total assets of US$834m and current liabilities of US$348m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 42% of its total assets. Barrett Business Services has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost its ROCE somewhat.

What We Can Learn From Barrett Business Services's ROCE

Despite this, its ROCE is still mediocre, and you may find more appealing investments elsewhere. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

I will like Barrett Business Services better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

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.