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How Do US Ecology, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ECOL) Returns On Capital Compare To Peers?

Today we are going to look at US Ecology, Inc. (NASDAQ:ECOL) 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.

First, we'll go over how we 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. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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?

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 US Ecology:

0.086 = US$75m ÷ (US$961m - US$90m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, US Ecology has an ROCE of 8.6%.

Check out our latest analysis for US Ecology

Does US Ecology Have A Good ROCE?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. We can see US Ecology's ROCE is meaningfully below the Commercial Services industry average of 11%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Aside from the industry comparison, US Ecology'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.

You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how US Ecology's past growth compares to other companies.

NasdaqGS:ECOL Past Revenue and Net Income, September 20th 2019
NasdaqGS:ECOL Past Revenue and Net Income, September 20th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for US Ecology.

Do US Ecology'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. 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.

US Ecology has total assets of US$961m and current liabilities of US$90m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 9.3% of its total assets. With low levels of current liabilities, at least US Ecology's mediocre ROCE is not unduly boosted.

What We Can Learn From US Ecology's ROCE

US Ecology looks like an ok business, but on this analysis it is not at the top of our buy list. 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).

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

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.