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Should Granite Construction Incorporated’s (NYSE:GVA) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Granite Construction Incorporated (NYSE:GVA) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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 of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared 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. 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. 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 Granite Construction:

0.044 = US$81m ÷ (US$2.4b - US$620m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Therefore, Granite Construction has an ROCE of 4.4%.

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Is Granite Construction's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In this analysis, Granite Construction's ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.5% average reported by the Construction industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Putting aside Granite Construction's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is poor - considering the risk of owning stocks compared to government bonds. Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

Granite Construction's current ROCE of 4.4% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 8.0% ROCE. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

NYSE:GVA Past Revenue and Net Income, May 20th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Granite Construction.

Do Granite Construction's Current Liabilities Skew Its 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.

Granite Construction has total assets of US$2.4b and current liabilities of US$620m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 25% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which will have a limited impact on the ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Granite Construction's ROCE

While that is good to see, Granite Construction has a low ROCE and does not look attractive in this analysis. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

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