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Is Lee Enterprises, Incorporated’s (NYSE:LEE) 17% ROCE Any Good?

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll look at Lee Enterprises, Incorporated (NYSE:LEE) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into 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. 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 measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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'.

So, How Do We Calculate ROCE?

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 Lee Enterprises:

0.17 = US$87m ÷ (US$579m - US$66m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, Lee Enterprises has an ROCE of 17%.

See our latest analysis for Lee Enterprises

Is Lee Enterprises's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. In our analysis, Lee Enterprises's ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 8.5% average in the Media industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Independently of how Lee Enterprises compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears decent, and the company may be worthy of closer investigation.

You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Lee Enterprises's past growth compares to other companies.

NYSE:LEE Past Revenue and Net Income, July 11th 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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. If Lee Enterprises is cyclical, it could make sense to check out this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

How Lee Enterprises's Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Lee Enterprises has total assets of US$579m and current liabilities of US$66m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 11% of its total assets. A fairly low level of current liabilities is not influencing the ROCE too much.

Our Take On Lee Enterprises's ROCE

With that in mind, Lee Enterprises's ROCE appears pretty good. Lee Enterprises shapes up well under this analysis, but it is far from the only business delivering excellent numbers . You might also want to check this free collection of companies delivering excellent earnings growth.

I will like Lee Enterprises better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider 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.