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Are Flowers Foods, Inc.’s (NYSE:FLO) High Returns Really That Great?

Saundra Reilly

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Today we are going to look at Flowers Foods, Inc. (NYSE:FLO) 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, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

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

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 Flowers Foods:

0.12 = US$304m ÷ (US$2.7b – US$401m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to October 2018.)

So, Flowers Foods has an ROCE of 12%.

Check out our latest analysis for Flowers Foods

Does Flowers Foods Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In our analysis, Flowers Foods’s ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 8.8% average in the Food industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Separate from Flowers Foods’s performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

NYSE:FLO Last Perf February 4th 19

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Flowers Foods.

How Flowers Foods’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 ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Flowers Foods has total liabilities of US$401m and total assets of US$2.7b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 15% of its total assets. A fairly low level of current liabilities is not influencing the ROCE too much.

What We Can Learn From Flowers Foods’s ROCE

This is good to see, and with a sound ROCE, Flowers Foods could be worth a closer look. 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.

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.