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Why Altair Engineering Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ALTR) Return On Capital Employed Looks Uninspiring

Simply Wall St

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Today we'll evaluate Altair Engineering Inc. (NASDAQ:ALTR) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

Firstly, 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.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the 'return' (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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 Altair Engineering:

0.048 = US$18m ÷ (US$519m - US$143m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, Altair Engineering has an ROCE of 4.8%.

See our latest analysis for Altair Engineering

Is Altair Engineering's ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see Altair Engineering's ROCE is meaningfully below the Software industry average of 9.5%. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Putting aside Altair Engineering's performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is poor - considering the risk of owning stocks compared to government bonds. Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

Altair Engineering's current ROCE of 4.8% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 20%, 3 years ago. This makes us wonder if the business is facing new challenges.

NasdaqGS:ALTR Past Revenue and Net Income, June 14th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is 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. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Altair Engineering.

Do Altair Engineering's Current Liabilities Skew Its 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Altair Engineering has total assets of US$519m and current liabilities of US$143m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 28% of its total assets. With a very reasonable level of current liabilities, so the impact on ROCE is fairly minimal.

Our Take On Altair Engineering's ROCE

Altair Engineering has a poor ROCE, and there may be better investment prospects out there. 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).

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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.