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Has US Ecology, Inc. (NASDAQ:ECOL) Been Employing Capital Shrewdly?

Simply Wall St

Today we’ll evaluate US Ecology, Inc. (NASDAQ:ECOL) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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.

First up, we’ll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

What is 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?

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:

0.09 = US$78m ÷ (US$948m – US$83m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, US Ecology has an ROCE of 9.0%.

Check out our latest analysis for US Ecology

Is US Ecology’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see US Ecology’s ROCE is around the 11% average reported by the Commercial Services 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. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

NasdaqGS:ECOL Past Revenue and Net Income, March 14th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. 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. 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?

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. Due to the way the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

US Ecology has total assets of US$948m and current liabilities of US$83m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 8.8% of its total assets. With low levels of current liabilities, at least US Ecology’s mediocre ROCE is not unduly boosted.

Our Take On US Ecology’s ROCE

If performance improves, then US Ecology may be an OK investment, especially at the right valuation. You might be able to find a better buy than US Ecology. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

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.