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Why We’re Not Keen On John Wood Group PLC’s (LON:WG.) 4.3% Return On Capital

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate John Wood Group PLC (LON:WG.) 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.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on 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. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 John Wood Group:

0.043 = US$346m ÷ (US$12b - US$4.0b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, John Wood Group has an ROCE of 4.3%.

View our latest analysis for John Wood Group

Does John Wood Group Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see John Wood Group's ROCE is meaningfully below the Energy Services industry average of 11%. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Aside from the industry comparison, John Wood Group'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.

John Wood Group's current ROCE of 4.3% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 8.0%, 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how John Wood Group's past growth compares to other companies.

LSE:WG. Past Revenue and Net Income, February 26th 2020

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. Given the industry it operates in, John Wood Group could be considered cyclical. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for John Wood Group.

Do John Wood Group'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. 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.

John Wood Group has current liabilities of US$4.0b and total assets of US$12b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 33% of its total assets. John Wood Group's middling level of current liabilities have the effect of boosting its ROCE a bit.

The Bottom Line On John Wood Group's ROCE

Unfortunately, its ROCE is still uninspiring, and there are potentially more attractive 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).

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.

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. Thank you for reading.