What Can We Make Of Hays plc’s (LON:HAS) High Return On Capital?

Today we’ll look at Hays plc (LON:HAS) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE 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 is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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 Hays:

0.34 = UK£249m ÷ (UK£1.4b – UK£676m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Hays has an ROCE of 34%.

See our latest analysis for Hays

Is Hays’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, we find that Hays’s ROCE is meaningfully better than the 19% average in the Professional Services industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Setting aside the comparison to its industry for a moment, Hays’s ROCE in absolute terms currently looks quite high.

LSE:HAS Past Revenue and Net Income, August 12th 2019
LSE:HAS Past Revenue and Net Income, August 12th 2019

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. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Hays’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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. 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Hays has total assets of UK£1.4b and current liabilities of UK£676m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 48% of its total assets. A medium level of current liabilities boosts Hays’s ROCE somewhat.

What We Can Learn From Hays’s ROCE

Despite this, it reports a high ROCE, and may be worth investigating further. Hays looks strong on this analysis, but there are plenty of other companies that could be a good opportunity . Here is a free list of companies growing earnings rapidly.

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.