Should You Worry About Strabag SE’s (VIE:STR) ROCE?

Today we are going to look at Strabag SE (VIE:STR) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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 of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Then we’ll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed 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. 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 Strabag:

0.062 = €369m ÷ (€11b – €5.6b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Therefore, Strabag has an ROCE of 6.2%.

View our latest analysis for Strabag

Is Strabag’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see Strabag’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Construction industry average of 11%. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Aside from the industry comparison, Strabag’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.

As we can see, Strabag currently has an ROCE of 6.2% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 1.2%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly.

WBAG:STR Past Revenue and Net Income, March 19th 2019
WBAG:STR Past Revenue and Net Income, March 19th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and 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 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 Strabag.

How Strabag’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 the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Strabag has total assets of €11b and current liabilities of €5.6b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 48% of its total assets. Strabag’s middling level of current liabilities have the effect of boosting its ROCE a bit.

The Bottom Line On Strabag’s ROCE

Unfortunately, its ROCE is still uninspiring, and there are potentially more attractive prospects out there. 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 are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are 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.