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Is Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. (NYSE:JEC) Better Than Average At Deploying Capital?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. (NYSE:JEC) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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 up, we'll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the 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?

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 Jacobs Engineering Group:

0.11 = US$881m ÷ (US$12b - US$3.3b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Jacobs Engineering Group has an ROCE of 11%.

Check out our latest analysis for Jacobs Engineering Group

Is Jacobs Engineering Group's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. It appears that Jacobs Engineering Group's ROCE is fairly close to the Construction industry average of 9.7%. Separate from how Jacobs Engineering Group stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

The image below shows how Jacobs Engineering Group's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:JEC Past Revenue and Net Income, August 26th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Jacobs Engineering Group's Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Jacobs Engineering Group has total liabilities of US$3.3b and total assets of US$12b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 28% 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 Jacobs Engineering Group's ROCE

With that in mind, we're not overly impressed with Jacobs Engineering Group's ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Jacobs Engineering Group. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.