Universal Corporation’s (NYSE:UVV) Investment Returns Are Lagging Its Industry

Today we are going to look at Universal Corporation (NYSE:UVV) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its 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 Universal:

0.084 = US$157m ÷ (US$2.2b – US$271m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2019.)

So, Universal has an ROCE of 8.4%.

Check out our latest analysis for Universal

Is Universal’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see Universal’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Tobacco industry average of 19%. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Aside from the industry comparison, Universal’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.

The image below shows how Universal’s ROCE compares to its industry, and you can click it to see more detail on its past growth.

NYSE:UVV Past Revenue and Net Income, February 11th 2020
NYSE:UVV Past Revenue and Net Income, February 11th 2020

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. If Universal is cyclical, it could make sense to check out this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

How Universal’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. 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.

Universal has current liabilities of US$271m and total assets of US$2.2b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 13% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Universal’s ROCE

If Universal continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. 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.

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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.