SpartanNash Company (NASDAQ:SPTN) Might Not Be A Great Investment

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Today we are going to look at SpartanNash Company (NASDAQ:SPTN) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. Specifically, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

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 metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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?

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 SpartanNash:

0.053 = US$96m ÷ (US$2.4b – US$555m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to April 2019.)

Therefore, SpartanNash has an ROCE of 5.3%.

View our latest analysis for SpartanNash

Is SpartanNash’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. In this analysis, SpartanNash’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.9% average reported by the Consumer Retailing industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Regardless of how SpartanNash 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.

SpartanNash’s current ROCE of 5.3% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 9.8%, 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

NasdaqGS:SPTN Past Revenue and Net Income, July 8th 2019
NasdaqGS:SPTN Past Revenue and Net Income, July 8th 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 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 SpartanNash.

Do SpartanNash’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

SpartanNash has total assets of US$2.4b and current liabilities of US$555m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 24% of its total assets. This is not a high level of current liabilities, which would not boost the ROCE by much.

What We Can Learn From SpartanNash’s ROCE

That’s not a bad thing, however SpartanNash has a weak ROCE and may not be an attractive investment. You might be able to find a better investment than SpartanNash. 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.