Why Countplus Limited’s (ASX:CUP) Use Of Investor Capital Doesn’t Look Great

Today we’ll evaluate Countplus Limited (ASX:CUP) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we’re going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First up, we’ll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. 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.

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. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 Countplus:

0.064 = AU$4.2m ÷ (AU$76m – AU$11m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Countplus has an ROCE of 6.4%.

Check out our latest analysis for Countplus

Is Countplus’s ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. Using our data, Countplus’s ROCE appears to be significantly below the 19% average in the Professional Services industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Countplus’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

We can see that , Countplus currently has an ROCE of 6.4%, less than the 8.5% it reported 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds.

ASX:CUP Past Revenue and Net Income, July 30th 2019
ASX:CUP Past Revenue and Net Income, July 30th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Countplus.

Do Countplus’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Countplus has total liabilities of AU$11m and total assets of AU$76m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 14% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

The Bottom Line On Countplus’s ROCE

If Countplus continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Countplus. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.