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Is Systemax Inc.’s (NYSE:SYX) 22% ROCE Any Good?

Neil Montgomery

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Today we’ll evaluate Systemax Inc. (NYSE:SYX) 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 of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the 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. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since ‘No two businesses are exactly alike.’

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Systemax:

0.22 = US$72m ÷ (US$528m – US$144m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

So, Systemax has an ROCE of 22%.

See our latest analysis for Systemax

Is Systemax’s ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. Systemax’s ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 8.0% average in the Trade Distributors industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Regardless of the industry comparison, in absolute terms, Systemax’s ROCE currently appears to be excellent.

In our analysis, Systemax’s ROCE appears to be 22%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 0.9%. This makes us wonder if the company is improving.

NYSE:SYX Last Perf February 11th 19

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Systemax.

How Systemax’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. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Systemax has total assets of US$528m and current liabilities of US$144m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 27% of its total assets. The fairly low level of current liabilities won’t have much impact on the already great ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Systemax’s ROCE

This is good to see, and with such a high ROCE, Systemax may be worth a closer look. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

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.