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Should STAAR Surgical Company’s (NASDAQ:STAA) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at STAAR Surgical Company (NASDAQ:STAA) 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 of all, we'll work out how to calculate ROCE. 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 is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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 STAAR Surgical:

0.057 = US$8.9m ÷ (US$186m - US$29m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, STAAR Surgical has an ROCE of 5.7%.

See our latest analysis for STAAR Surgical

Does STAAR Surgical Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see STAAR Surgical's ROCE is meaningfully below the Medical Equipment industry average of 10%. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Putting aside STAAR Surgical's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is poor - considering the risk of owning stocks compared to government bonds. It is likely that there are more attractive prospects out there.

STAAR Surgical reported an ROCE of 5.7% -- better than 3 years ago, when the company didn't make a profit. This makes us wonder if the company is improving. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how STAAR Surgical's past growth compares to other companies.

NasdaqGM:STAA Past Revenue and Net Income, September 9th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Do STAAR Surgical's Current Liabilities Skew 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 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.

STAAR Surgical has total assets of US$186m and current liabilities of US$29m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 15% of its total assets. With a very reasonable level of current liabilities, so the impact on ROCE is fairly minimal.

Our Take On STAAR Surgical's ROCE

While that is good to see, STAAR Surgical has a low ROCE and does not look attractive in this analysis. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than STAAR Surgical. 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).

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.