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# Electro-Sensors, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ELSE) Investment Returns Are Lagging Its Industry

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Today we'll look at Electro-Sensors, Inc. (NASDAQ:ELSE) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. 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 is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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'.

### 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 Electro-Sensors:

0.0039 = US\$50k ÷ (US\$13m - US\$629k) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Therefore, Electro-Sensors has an ROCE of 0.4%.

### Does Electro-Sensors Have A Good ROCE?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. We can see Electro-Sensors's ROCE is meaningfully below the Electronic industry average of 12%. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Regardless of how Electro-Sensors stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is quite low (especially compared to a bank account). There are potentially more appealing investments elsewhere.

As we can see, Electro-Sensors currently has an ROCE of 0.4%, less than the 0.7% it reported 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. How cyclical is Electro-Sensors? You can see for yourself by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

### What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Electro-Sensors's ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that 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.

Electro-Sensors has total liabilities of US\$629k and total assets of US\$13m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 4.7% of its total assets. Electro-Sensors has a low level of current liabilities, which have a negligible impact on its already low ROCE.

### Our Take On Electro-Sensors's ROCE

Still, investors could probably find more attractive prospects with better performance out there. 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.

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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.