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Should You Worry About FutureFuel Corp.’s (NYSE:FF) ROCE?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate FutureFuel Corp. (NYSE:FF) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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, 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.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since 'No two businesses are exactly alike.'

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 FutureFuel:

0.069 = US$30m ÷ (US$480m - US$41m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, FutureFuel has an ROCE of 6.9%.

See our latest analysis for FutureFuel

Does FutureFuel Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see FutureFuel's ROCE is meaningfully below the Chemicals industry average of 9.9%. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, FutureFuel's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

FutureFuel's current ROCE of 6.9% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 9.9%, 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently. The image below shows how FutureFuel's ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:FF Past Revenue and Net Income, August 9th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. You can check if FutureFuel has cyclical profits by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect FutureFuel's ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that need to be paid within 12 months. Due to the way the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

FutureFuel has total liabilities of US$41m and total assets of US$480m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 8.6% of its total assets. FutureFuel reports few current liabilities, which have a negligible impact on its unremarkable ROCE.

The Bottom Line On FutureFuel's ROCE

If performance improves, then FutureFuel may be an OK investment, especially at the right valuation. You might be able to find a better investment than FutureFuel. 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.

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.