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Does EXFO Inc.’s (TSE:EXF) ROCE Reflect Well On The Business?

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at EXFO Inc. (TSE:EXF) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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 up, we'll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the 'return' (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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 EXFO:

0.07 = US$14m ÷ (US$287m - US$89m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to November 2019.)

Therefore, EXFO has an ROCE of 7.0%.

View our latest analysis for EXFO

Does EXFO Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see EXFO's ROCE is around the 6.9% average reported by the Communications industry. Separate from how EXFO stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

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

TSX:EXF Past Revenue and Net Income, February 4th 2020

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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for EXFO.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect EXFO'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. 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

EXFO has current liabilities of US$89m and total assets of US$287m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 31% of its total assets. EXFO has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost its ROCE somewhat.

Our Take On EXFO's ROCE

With this level of liabilities and a mediocre ROCE, there are potentially better investments out there. You might be able to find a better investment than EXFO. 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).

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.