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Why We’re Not Keen On Wabash National Corporation’s (NYSE:WNC) 13% Return On Capital

Brandy Kinsey

Today we’ll evaluate Wabash National Corporation (NYSE:WNC) 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 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.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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?

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 Wabash National:

0.13 = US$140m ÷ (US$1.4b – US$308m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

So, Wabash National has an ROCE of 13%.

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Is Wabash National’s ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. Using our data, Wabash National’s ROCE appears to be around the 12% average of the Machinery industry. Separate from Wabash National’s performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

As we can see, Wabash National currently has an ROCE of 13%, less than the 21% it reported 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

NYSE:WNC Last Perf January 11th 19

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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

How Wabash National’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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Wabash National has total liabilities of US$308m and total assets of US$1.4b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 23% of its total assets. Low current liabilities are not boosting the ROCE too much.

Our Take On Wabash National’s ROCE

With that in mind, Wabash National’s ROCE appears pretty good. You might be able to find a better buy than Wabash National. 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).

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.