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Are Hub Group, Inc.’s Returns On Capital Worth Investigating?

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll look at Hub Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:HUBG) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

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

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.'

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 Hub Group:

0.096 = US$139m ÷ (US$1.9b - US$487m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, Hub Group has an ROCE of 9.6%.

Check out our latest analysis for Hub Group

Does Hub Group Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. It appears that Hub Group's ROCE is fairly close to the Logistics industry average of 11%. Separate from how Hub Group stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

Hub Group's current ROCE of 9.6% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 14% ROCE. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds.

NasdaqGS:HUBG Past Revenue and Net Income, May 11th 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking - it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. 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 Hub Group.

How Hub 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. Due to the way the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Hub Group has total liabilities of US$487m and total assets of US$1.9b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 25% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Hub Group's ROCE

If Hub Group continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. You might be able to find a better investment than Hub Group. 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 like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.