Is The E.W. Scripps Company (NASDAQ:SSP) Struggling With Its 3.8% Return On Capital Employed?

Today we’ll evaluate The E.W. Scripps Company (NASDAQ:SSP) 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.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on 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. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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 E.W. Scripps:

0.038 = US$125m ÷ (US$3.5b – US$244m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

So, E.W. Scripps has an ROCE of 3.8%.

View our latest analysis for E.W. Scripps

Is E.W. Scripps’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In this analysis, E.W. Scripps’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.1% average reported by the Media industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Putting aside E.W. Scripps’s performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is poor – considering the risk of owning stocks compared to government bonds. Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

In our analysis, E.W. Scripps’s ROCE appears to be 3.8%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 1.8%. This makes us think the business might be improving. The image below shows how E.W. Scripps’s ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NasdaqGS:SSP Past Revenue and Net Income, January 24th 2020
NasdaqGS:SSP Past Revenue and Net Income, January 24th 2020

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. 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 E.W. Scripps.

E.W. Scripps’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

E.W. Scripps has total assets of US$3.5b and current liabilities of US$244m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 7.0% of its total assets. With barely any current liabilities, there is minimal impact on E.W. Scripps’s admittedly low ROCE.

What We Can Learn From E.W. Scripps’s ROCE

Nevertheless, there are potentially more attractive companies to invest in. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

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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.