Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and receive a $20 prize!
Today we are going to look at USA Truck, Inc. (NASDAQ:USAK) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. Specifically, we’re going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.
First of all, we’ll work out how to 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 measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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 USA Truck:
0.075 = US$19m ÷ (US$322m – US$69m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)
So, USA Truck has an ROCE of 7.5%.
Is USA Truck’s ROCE Good?
When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. In this analysis, USA Truck’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 12% average reported by the Transportation industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, USA Truck’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.
Remember that this metric is backwards looking – it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. 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. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect USA Truck’s 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.
USA Truck has total liabilities of US$69m and total assets of US$322m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 21% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.
Our Take On USA Truck’s ROCE
If USA Truck continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. But note: USA Truck may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).
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 email@example.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.