U.S. markets open in 7 hours 55 minutes

Should Optical Cable Corporation’s (NASDAQ:OCC) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

Ray Foley

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 look at Optical Cable Corporation (NASDAQ:OCC) 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, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. 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 measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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?

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 Optical Cable:

0.048 = US$1.7m ÷ (US$43m – US$7.0m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to October 2018.)

Therefore, Optical Cable has an ROCE of 4.8%.

See our latest analysis for Optical Cable

Is Optical Cable’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see Optical Cable’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Communications industry average of 7.5%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Independently of how Optical Cable compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is low; especially compared to the ~2.7% available in government bonds. Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

Optical Cable delivered an ROCE of 4.8%, which is better than 3 years ago, as was making losses back then. This makes us wonder if the company is improving.

NASDAQGM:OCC Last Perf February 12th 19

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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. You can check if Optical Cable has cyclical profits by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Optical Cable’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

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

Optical Cable has total liabilities of US$7.0m and total assets of US$43m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 16% of its total assets. With a very reasonable level of current liabilities, so the impact on ROCE is fairly minimal.

The Bottom Line On Optical Cable’s ROCE

While that is good to see, Optical Cable has a low ROCE and does not look attractive in this analysis. Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Optical Cable. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.