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Are Flex Ltd.’s (NASDAQ:FLEX) Returns Worth Your While?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Flex Ltd. (NASDAQ:FLEX) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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 up, we'll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 Flex:

0.095 = US$666m ÷ (US$14b - US$7.4b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Flex has an ROCE of 9.5%.

See our latest analysis for Flex

Is Flex's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. It appears that Flex's ROCE is fairly close to the Electronic industry average of 12%. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Flex'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.

You can see in the image below how Flex's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NasdaqGS:FLEX Past Revenue and Net Income, September 17th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. ROCE can be misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the 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 Flex.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Flex's ROCE?

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Flex has total liabilities of US$7.4b and total assets of US$14b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 52% of its total assets. Flex has a fairly high level of current liabilities, meaningfully impacting its ROCE.

Our Take On Flex's ROCE

Despite this, the company also has a uninspiring ROCE, which is not an ideal combination in this analysis. You might be able to find a better investment than Flex. 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 are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are 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.