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Why We’re Not Impressed By Valhi, Inc.’s (NYSE:VHI) 7.5% ROCE

Simply Wall St

Today we are going to look at Valhi, Inc. (NYSE:VHI) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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, 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.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested 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?

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 Valhi:

0.075 = US$184m ÷ (US$2.8b - US$318m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

So, Valhi has an ROCE of 7.5%.

View our latest analysis for Valhi

Does Valhi Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In this analysis, Valhi's ROCE appears meaningfully below the 10% average reported by the Chemicals industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Separate from how Valhi stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

Valhi has an ROCE of 7.5%, but it didn't have an ROCE 3 years ago, since it was unprofitable. That implies the business has been improving. The image below shows how Valhi's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:VHI Past Revenue and Net Income, September 13th 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. How cyclical is Valhi? You can see for yourself by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

How Valhi's Current Liabilities Impact 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. 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.

Valhi has total assets of US$2.8b and current liabilities of US$318m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 11% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

The Bottom Line On Valhi's ROCE

If Valhi continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E 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 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.