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If we're looking to avoid a business that is in decline, what are the trends that can warn us ahead of time? When we see a declining return on capital employed (ROCE) in conjunction with a declining base of capital employed, that's often how a mature business shows signs of aging. Trends like this ultimately mean the business is reducing its investments and also earning less on what it has invested. Having said that, after a brief look, Powell Industries (NASDAQ:POWL) we aren't filled with optimism, but let's investigate further.
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. Analysts use this formula to calculate it for Powell Industries:
Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)
0.0036 = US$1.1m ÷ (US$422m - US$105m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2021).
Therefore, Powell Industries has an ROCE of 0.4%. In absolute terms, that's a low return and it also under-performs the Electrical industry average of 11%.
In the above chart we have measured Powell Industries' 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.
How Are Returns Trending?
In terms of Powell Industries' historical ROCE movements, the trend doesn't inspire confidence. About five years ago, returns on capital were 7.7%, however they're now substantially lower than that as we saw above. And on the capital employed front, the business is utilizing roughly the same amount of capital as it was back then. This combination can be indicative of a mature business that still has areas to deploy capital, but the returns received aren't as high due potentially to new competition or smaller margins. So because these trends aren't typically conducive to creating a multi-bagger, we wouldn't hold our breath on Powell Industries becoming one if things continue as they have.
The Key Takeaway
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 16% 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.
On a final note, we've found 3 warning signs for Powell Industries that we think you should be aware of.
While Powell Industries may not currently earn the highest returns, we've compiled a list of companies that currently earn more than 25% return on equity. Check out this free list here.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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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