PICO Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:PICO) Might Not Be A Great Investment

Today we’ll evaluate PICO Holdings, Inc. (NASDAQ:PICO) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Then we’ll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

What is 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. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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?

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 PICO Holdings:

0.07 = US$13m ÷ (US$181m – US$475k) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2019.)

So, PICO Holdings has an ROCE of 7.0%.

Check out our latest analysis for PICO Holdings

Does PICO Holdings Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. In this analysis, PICO Holdings’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.2% average reported by the Commercial Services industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Separate from how PICO Holdings stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

PICO Holdings has an ROCE of 7.0%, but it didn’t have an ROCE 3 years ago, since it was unprofitable. That suggests the business has returned to profitability. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how PICO Holdings’s past growth compares to other companies.

NasdaqGS:PICO Past Revenue and Net Income April 8th 2020
NasdaqGS:PICO Past Revenue and Net Income April 8th 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. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. If PICO Holdings is cyclical, it could make sense to check out this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Do PICO Holdings’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

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

PICO Holdings has total assets of US$181m and current liabilities of US$475k. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 0.3% of its total assets. PICO Holdings reports few current liabilities, which have a negligible impact on its unremarkable ROCE.

The Bottom Line On PICO Holdings’s ROCE

If performance improves, then PICO Holdings may be an OK investment, especially at the right valuation. 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 PICO Holdings 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.

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