U.S. Markets closed

Should InterDigital, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:IDCC) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at InterDigital, Inc. (NASDAQ:IDCC) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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. 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. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. Renowned investment researcher Michael Mauboussin has suggested that a high ROCE can indicate that 'one dollar invested in the company generates value of more than one dollar'.

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 InterDigital:

0.02 = US$26m ÷ (US$1.5b - US$243m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, InterDigital has an ROCE of 2.0%.

View our latest analysis for InterDigital

Does InterDigital Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, InterDigital's ROCE appears to be significantly below the 6.6% average in the Communications industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Putting aside InterDigital's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is poor - considering the risk of owning stocks compared to government bonds. There are potentially more appealing investments elsewhere.

InterDigital's current ROCE of 2.0% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 15% ROCE. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently. The image below shows how InterDigital's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NasdaqGS:IDCC Past Revenue and Net Income, September 9th 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 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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

InterDigital's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

InterDigital has total assets of US$1.5b and current liabilities of US$243m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 16% 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 InterDigital's ROCE

While that is good to see, InterDigital 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).

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

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.