Is California Water Service Group (NYSE:CWT) Better Than Average At Deploying Capital?

Today we’ll evaluate California Water Service Group (NYSE:CWT) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we’re going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a measure of a company’s yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since ‘No two businesses are exactly alike.

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 California Water Service Group:

0.04 = US$110m ÷ (US$3.1b – US$359m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2019.)

Therefore, California Water Service Group has an ROCE of 4.0%.

View our latest analysis for California Water Service Group

Is California Water Service Group’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see California Water Service Group’s ROCE is around the 4.1% average reported by the Water Utilities industry. Regardless of how California Water Service Group stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is quite low (especially compared to a bank account). Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

You can see in the image below how California Water Service Group’s ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:CWT Past Revenue and Net Income, March 2nd 2020
NYSE:CWT Past Revenue and Net Income, March 2nd 2020

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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for California Water Service Group.

How California Water Service Group’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.

California Water Service Group has current liabilities of US$359m and total assets of US$3.1b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 12% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which will have a limited impact on the ROCE.

Our Take On California Water Service Group’s ROCE

California Water Service Group has a poor ROCE, and there may be better investment 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).

I will like California Water Service Group better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

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.