Today we’ll look at Spire Inc. (NYSE:SR) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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 of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.
What is 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. 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’.
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 Spire:
0.05 = US$310m ÷ (US$7.6b – US$1.5b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)
Therefore, Spire has an ROCE of 5.0%.
Is Spire’s ROCE Good?
One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. It appears that Spire’s ROCE is fairly close to the Gas Utilities industry average of 5.6%. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Spire’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.
You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Spire’s past growth compares to other companies.
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. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Spire.
How Spire’s Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE
Liabilities, such as supplier bills and bank overdrafts, are referred to as current liabilities if they 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.
Spire has current liabilities of US$1.5b and total assets of US$7.6b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 19% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.
The Bottom Line On Spire’s ROCE
If Spire continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. You might be able to find a better investment than Spire. 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).
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 email@example.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.
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