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Harley-Davidson's (NYSE:HOG) Returns On Capital Tell Us There Is Reason To Feel Uneasy

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What underlying fundamental trends can indicate that a company might be in decline? When we see a declining return on capital employed (ROCE) in conjunction with a declining base of capital employed, that's often how a mature business shows signs of aging. This indicates to us that the business is not only shrinking the size of its net assets, but its returns are falling as well. So after we looked into Harley-Davidson (NYSE:HOG), the trends above didn't look too great.

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

If you haven't worked with ROCE before, it measures the 'return' (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. To calculate this metric for Harley-Davidson, this is the formula:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)

0.098 = US$733m ÷ (US$11b - US$3.5b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2021).

So, Harley-Davidson has an ROCE of 9.8%. Even though it's in line with the industry average of 9.8%, it's still a low return by itself.

View our latest analysis for Harley-Davidson

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In the above chart we have measured Harley-Davidson's prior ROCE against its prior performance, but the future is arguably more important. If you're interested, you can view the analysts predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

How Are Returns Trending?

In terms of Harley-Davidson's historical ROCE movements, the trend doesn't inspire confidence. Unfortunately the returns on capital have diminished from the 14% that they were earning five years ago. And on the capital employed front, the business is utilizing roughly the same amount of capital as it was back then. Companies that exhibit these attributes tend to not be shrinking, but they can be mature and facing pressure on their margins from competition. If these trends continue, we wouldn't expect Harley-Davidson to turn into a multi-bagger.

Our Take On Harley-Davidson's ROCE

All in all, the lower returns from the same amount of capital employed aren't exactly signs of a compounding machine. It should come as no surprise then that the stock has fallen 14% over the last five years, so it looks like investors are recognizing these changes. Unless there is a shift to a more positive trajectory in these metrics, we would look elsewhere.

On a separate note, we've found 1 warning sign for Harley-Davidson you'll probably want to know about.

If you want to search for solid companies with great earnings, check out this free list of companies with good balance sheets and impressive returns on equity.

This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

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