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Why You Should Care About U.S. Concrete, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:USCR) Low Return On Capital

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate U.S. Concrete, Inc. (NASDAQ:USCR) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we'll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on 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. 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?

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 U.S. Concrete:

0.049 = US$57m ÷ (US$1.4b - US$269m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, U.S. Concrete has an ROCE of 4.9%.

View our latest analysis for U.S. Concrete

Is U.S. Concrete's ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. We can see U.S. Concrete's ROCE is meaningfully below the Basic Materials industry average of 9.7%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Independently of how U.S. Concrete compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is low; especially compared to the ~2.7% available in government bonds. It is likely that there are more attractive prospects out there.

U.S. Concrete's current ROCE of 4.9% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 13% ROCE. This makes us wonder if the business is facing new challenges. You can see in the image below how U.S. Concrete's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NasdaqCM:USCR Past Revenue and Net Income, November 6th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. 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.

How U.S. Concrete's Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. Due to the way ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

U.S. Concrete has total liabilities of US$269m and total assets of US$1.4b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 19% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which will have a limited impact on the ROCE.

Our Take On U.S. Concrete's ROCE

U.S. Concrete has a poor ROCE, and there may be better investment prospects out there. You might be able to find a better investment than U.S. Concrete. 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).

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.