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Here’s What DS Smith Plc’s (LON:SMDS) Return On Capital Can Tell Us

Alvin Rowe

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Today we are going to look at DS Smith Plc (LON:SMDS) 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. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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 DS Smith:

0.09 = UK£433m ÷ (UK£7.8b – UK£2.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to October 2018.)

Therefore, DS Smith has an ROCE of 9.0%.

See our latest analysis for DS Smith

Is DS Smith’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see DS Smith’s ROCE is around the 9.0% average reported by the Packaging industry. Aside from the industry comparison, DS Smith’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

As we can see, DS Smith currently has an ROCE of 9.0%, less than the 13% it reported 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

LSE:SMDS Last Perf February 12th 19

Remember that this metric is backwards looking – it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. 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. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for DS Smith.

How DS Smith’s Current Liabilities Impact 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 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.

DS Smith has total assets of UK£7.8b and current liabilities of UK£2.3b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 30% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

Our Take On DS Smith’s ROCE

With that in mind, we’re not overly impressed with DS Smith’s ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. 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.

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

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.