If you're looking at a mature business that's past the growth phase, what are some of the underlying trends that pop up? More often than not, we'll see a declining return on capital employed (ROCE) and a declining amount of capital employed. Basically the company is earning less on its investments and it is also reducing its total assets. So after glancing at the trends within Matthews International (NASDAQ:MATW), we weren't too hopeful.
Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?
For those that aren't sure what ROCE is, it measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. To calculate this metric for Matthews International, this is the formula:
Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)
0.034 = US$61m ÷ (US$2.1b - US$305m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2020).
Therefore, Matthews International has an ROCE of 3.4%. In absolute terms, that's a low return and it also under-performs the Commercial Services industry average of 9.8%.
In the above chart we have a measured Matthews International'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.
What The Trend Of ROCE Can Tell Us
There is reason to be cautious about Matthews International, given the returns are trending downwards. To be more specific, the ROCE was 6.4% five years ago, but since then it has dropped noticeably. 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 Matthews International to turn into a multi-bagger.
In the end, the trend of lower returns on the same amount of capital isn't typically an indication that we're looking at a growth stock. Investors haven't taken kindly to these developments, since the stock has declined 53% from where it was five years ago. That being the case, unless the underlying trends revert to a more positive trajectory, we'd consider looking elsewhere.
Matthews International does come with some risks though, we found 2 warning signs in our investment analysis, and 1 of those doesn't sit too well with us...
For those who like to invest in solid companies, check out this free list of companies with solid balance sheets and high returns on equity.
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. 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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