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Here’s why Pitney Bowes Inc.’s (NYSE:PBI) Returns On Capital Matters So Much

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Pitney Bowes Inc. (NYSE:PBI) and reflect on its potential as an investment. To be precise, we'll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the 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 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. 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 Pitney Bowes:

0.07 = US$280m ÷ (US$5.8b - US$1.8b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Pitney Bowes has an ROCE of 7.0%.

View our latest analysis for Pitney Bowes

Is Pitney Bowes's ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In this analysis, Pitney Bowes's ROCE appears meaningfully below the 11% average reported by the Commercial Services industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Separate from how Pitney Bowes 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.

We can see that , Pitney Bowes currently has an ROCE of 7.0%, less than the 16% it reported 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. The image below shows how Pitney Bowes's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:PBI Past Revenue and Net Income, August 12th 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 misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the 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 Pitney Bowes'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. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Pitney Bowes has total assets of US$5.8b and current liabilities of US$1.8b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 31% of its total assets. Pitney Bowes has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost its ROCE somewhat.

What We Can Learn From Pitney Bowes'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 Pitney Bowes. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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

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.