Why Itron, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ITRI) Return On Capital Employed Looks Uninspiring

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Today we’ll evaluate Itron, Inc. (NASDAQ:ITRI) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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. 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.

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.’

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 Itron:

0.072 = US$146m ÷ (US$2.7b – US$666m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

So, Itron has an ROCE of 7.2%.

Check out our latest analysis for Itron

Does Itron Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see Itron’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Electronic industry average of 12%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Separate from how Itron stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

In our analysis, Itron’s ROCE appears to be 7.2%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 4.6%. This makes us think the business might be improving.

NasdaqGS:ITRI Past Revenue and Net Income, July 16th 2019
NasdaqGS:ITRI Past Revenue and Net Income, July 16th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Itron.

How Itron’s Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that 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.

Itron has total assets of US$2.7b and current liabilities of US$666m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 25% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

Our Take On Itron’s ROCE

That said, Itron’s ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. You might be able to find a better investment than Itron. 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).

I will like Itron better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

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.