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Are Hailiang Education Group Inc.’s (NASDAQ:HLG) High Returns Really That Great?

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at Hailiang Education Group Inc. (NASDAQ:HLG) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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 of all, we’ll work out how to 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.

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. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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.’

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 Hailiang Education Group:

0.21 = CN¥280m ÷ (CN¥1.9b – CN¥550m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2018.)

Therefore, Hailiang Education Group has an ROCE of 21%.

See our latest analysis for Hailiang Education Group

Does Hailiang Education Group Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Hailiang Education Group’s ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 11% average in the Consumer Services industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Setting aside the comparison to its industry for a moment, Hailiang Education Group’s ROCE in absolute terms currently looks quite high.

NasdaqGM:HLG Past Revenue and Net Income, March 6th 2019

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. How cyclical is Hailiang Education Group? You can see for yourself by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

How Hailiang Education Group’s Current Liabilities Impact Its 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Hailiang Education Group has total liabilities of CN¥550m and total assets of CN¥1.9b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 29% of its total assets. This is quite a low level of current liabilities which would not greatly boost the already high ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Hailiang Education Group’s ROCE

Low current liabilities and high ROCE is a good combination, making Hailiang Education Group look quite interesting. 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.

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.