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Why You Should Care About CRA International, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:CRAI) Low Return On Capital

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at CRA International, Inc. (NASDAQ:CRAI) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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 of all, we'll work out how to 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 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. 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 CRA International:

0.082 = US$27m ÷ (US$486m - US$153m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, CRA International has an ROCE of 8.2%.

See our latest analysis for CRA International

Is CRA International's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see CRA International's ROCE is meaningfully below the Professional Services industry average of 12%. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Aside from the industry comparison, CRA International'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.

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

NasdaqGS:CRAI Past Revenue and Net Income, October 15th 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 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. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for CRA International.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect CRA International's ROCE?

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, that need to be paid within 12 months. 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

CRA International has total liabilities of US$153m and total assets of US$486m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 31% of its total assets. CRA International's ROCE is improved somewhat by its moderate amount of current liabilities.

The Bottom Line On CRA International's ROCE

With this level of liabilities and a mediocre ROCE, there are potentially better investments out there. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than CRA International. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

I will like CRA International better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider 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.