U.S. Markets closed

Is Middlesex Water Company (NASDAQ:MSEX) Better Than Average At Deploying Capital?

Simply Wall St

Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and you could win a $250 gift card!

Today we'll evaluate Middlesex Water Company (NASDAQ:MSEX) 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. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the 'return' (pre-tax profit) a company generates from 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'.

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 Middlesex Water:

0.05 = US$34m ÷ (US$783m - US$93m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Therefore, Middlesex Water has an ROCE of 5.0%.

See our latest analysis for Middlesex Water

Is Middlesex Water's ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. It appears that Middlesex Water's ROCE is fairly close to the Water Utilities industry average of 4.9%. Regardless of how Middlesex Water stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is quite low (especially compared to a bank account). Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

Middlesex Water's current ROCE of 5.0% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 6.7%, 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. The image below shows how Middlesex Water's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NasdaqGS:MSEX Past Revenue and Net Income, July 20th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Middlesex Water.

Middlesex Water'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 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.

Middlesex Water has total liabilities of US$93m and total assets of US$783m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 12% of its total assets. With a very reasonable level of current liabilities, so the impact on ROCE is fairly minimal.

The Bottom Line On Middlesex Water's ROCE

That's not a bad thing, however Middlesex Water has a weak ROCE and may not be an attractive investment. You might be able to find a better investment than Middlesex Water. 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).

I will like Middlesex Water 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.