Should China Communications Services Corporation Limited’s (HKG:552) Weak Investment Returns Worry You?

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Today we’ll look at China Communications Services Corporation Limited (HKG:552) and reflect on its potential as an investment. In particular, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Then we’ll determine how its current liabilities are affecting its ROCE.

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

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. 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 China Communications Services:

0.083 = CN¥2.8b ÷ (CN¥81b – CN¥47b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, China Communications Services has an ROCE of 8.3%.

See our latest analysis for China Communications Services

Is China Communications Services’s ROCE Good?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. In this analysis, China Communications Services’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 13% average reported by the Construction industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Separate from how China Communications Services 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.

SEHK:552 Past Revenue and Net Income, June 26th 2019
SEHK:552 Past Revenue and Net Income, June 26th 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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

How China Communications Services’s Current Liabilities Impact 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

China Communications Services has total liabilities of CN¥47b and total assets of CN¥81b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 58% of its total assets. China Communications Services has a fairly high level of current liabilities, meaningfully impacting its ROCE.

Our Take On China Communications Services’s ROCE

Notably, it also has a mediocre ROCE, which to my mind is not an appealing combination. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than China Communications Services. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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

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.