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Should Taoping Inc.’s (NASDAQ:TAOP) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

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Simply Wall St
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Today we are going to look at Taoping Inc. (NASDAQ:TAOP) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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.

Firstly, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. And finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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?

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 Taoping:

0.0096 = US$169k ÷ (US$42m - US$24m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Taoping has an ROCE of 1.0%.

See our latest analysis for Taoping

Does Taoping Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. In this analysis, Taoping's ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.7% average reported by the IT industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Regardless of how Taoping stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is quite low (especially compared to a bank account). There are potentially more appealing investments elsewhere.

Taoping has an ROCE of 1.0%, but it didn't have an ROCE 3 years ago, since it was unprofitable. That suggests the business has returned to profitability. You can see in the image below how Taoping's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NasdaqCM:TAOP Past Revenue and Net Income, June 27th 2019
NasdaqCM:TAOP Past Revenue and Net Income, June 27th 2019

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. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. You can check if Taoping has cyclical profits by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Taoping's 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Taoping has total liabilities of US$24m and total assets of US$42m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 58% of its total assets. This is a fairly high level of current liabilities, boosting Taoping's ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Taoping's ROCE

Unfortunately, its ROCE is also pretty low, so we are cautious about the stock. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Taoping. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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

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.