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Is Trimble Inc. (NASDAQ:TRMB) Struggling With Its 8.6% Return On Capital Employed?

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at Trimble Inc. (NASDAQ:TRMB) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. To be precise, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

Firstly, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a measure of a company's yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the 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'.

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Trimble:

0.086 = US$411m ÷ (US$5.9b - US$1.1b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Trimble has an ROCE of 8.6%.

View our latest analysis for Trimble

Is Trimble's ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, Trimble's ROCE appears to be significantly below the 12% average in the Electronic industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Aside from the industry comparison, Trimble's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

We can see that, Trimble currently has an ROCE of 8.6% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 5.6%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly. The image below shows how Trimble's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NasdaqGS:TRMB Past Revenue and Net Income, October 31st 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 misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the busts. 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.

Do Trimble's Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. 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.

Trimble has total assets of US$5.9b and current liabilities of US$1.1b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 18% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On Trimble's ROCE

With that in mind, we're not overly impressed with Trimble's ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Trimble. 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.