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Has Shutterstock, Inc. (NYSE:SSTK) Been Employing Capital Shrewdly?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Shutterstock, Inc. (NYSE:SSTK) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Then we'll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

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?

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 Shutterstock:

0.091 = US$34m ÷ (US$617m - US$248m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, Shutterstock has an ROCE of 9.1%.

See our latest analysis for Shutterstock

Does Shutterstock Have A Good ROCE?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. It appears that Shutterstock's ROCE is fairly close to the Online Retail industry average of 7.7%. Aside from the industry comparison, Shutterstock's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

We can see that, Shutterstock currently has an ROCE of 9.1%, less than the 16% it reported 3 years ago. This makes us wonder if the business is facing new challenges. The image below shows how Shutterstock's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:SSTK Past Revenue and Net Income, January 16th 2020

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

How Shutterstock's Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, that need to be paid within 12 months. 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Shutterstock has total liabilities of US$248m and total assets of US$617m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 40% of its total assets. Shutterstock has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost its ROCE somewhat.

What We Can Learn From Shutterstock's ROCE

With this level of liabilities and a mediocre ROCE, there are potentially better investments out there. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.