Why You Should Care About Casella Waste Systems, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:CWST) Low Return On Capital

Today we’ll look at Casella Waste Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CWST) and reflect on its potential as an investment. To be precise, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

First, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

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

ROCE measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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 Casella Waste Systems:

0.068 = US$55m ÷ (US$936m – US$127m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Therefore, Casella Waste Systems has an ROCE of 6.8%.

Check out our latest analysis for Casella Waste Systems

Does Casella Waste Systems Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In this analysis, Casella Waste Systems’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.4% average reported by the Commercial Services industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Separate from how Casella Waste Systems 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.

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

NasdaqGS:CWST Past Revenue and Net Income, January 13th 2020
NasdaqGS:CWST Past Revenue and Net Income, January 13th 2020

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. 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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Casella Waste Systems.

Do Casella Waste Systems’s Current Liabilities Skew 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.

Casella Waste Systems has total liabilities of US$127m and total assets of US$936m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 14% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On Casella Waste Systems’s ROCE

If Casella Waste Systems 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.

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

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.