Are Austal Limited’s (ASX:ASB) Returns On Investment Worth Your While?

Today we are going to look at Austal Limited (ASX:ASB) 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.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we 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. 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’.

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 Austal:

0.081 = AU$69m ÷ (AU$1.2b – AU$314m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Austal has an ROCE of 8.1%.

View our latest analysis for Austal

Is Austal’s ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. It appears that Austal’s ROCE is fairly close to the Aerospace & Defense industry average of 8.1%. Separate from how Austal 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.

We can see that , Austal currently has an ROCE of 8.1% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 5.7%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly.

ASX:ASB Past Revenue and Net Income, August 14th 2019
ASX:ASB Past Revenue and Net Income, August 14th 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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Austal.

How Austal’s Current Liabilities Impact Its ROCE

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Austal has total assets of AU$1.2b and current liabilities of AU$314m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 27% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

What We Can Learn From Austal’s ROCE

If Austal continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio 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.

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.