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Don’t Buy Fiserv, Inc. (NASDAQ:FISV) Until You Understand Its ROCE

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Fiserv, Inc. (NASDAQ:FISV) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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 of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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.

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Fiserv:

0.089 = US$1.6b ÷ (US$20b - US$2.1b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Fiserv has an ROCE of 8.9%.

See our latest analysis for Fiserv

Does Fiserv Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. It appears that Fiserv's ROCE is fairly close to the IT industry average of 10%. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Fiserv'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.

Fiserv's current ROCE of 8.9% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 17%, 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently. The image below shows how Fiserv's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NasdaqGS:FISV Past Revenue and Net Income, October 7th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

How Fiserv's Current Liabilities Impact Its 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Fiserv has total assets of US$20b and current liabilities of US$2.1b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 10% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On Fiserv's ROCE

If Fiserv continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Fiserv. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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

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.