What Can We Make Of The Hour Glass Limited’s (SGX:AGS) High Return On Capital?

Today we’ll evaluate The Hour Glass Limited (SGX:AGS) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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 of all, we’ll work out how to 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.

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. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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 Hour Glass:

0.14 = S$78m ÷ (S$636m – S$82m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Hour Glass has an ROCE of 14%.

View our latest analysis for Hour Glass

Is Hour Glass’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Hour Glass’s ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 12% average in the Specialty Retail industry. We consider this a positive sign, because it suggests it uses capital more efficiently than similar companies. Separate from Hour Glass’s performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.

SGX:AGS Past Revenue and Net Income, April 24th 2019
SGX:AGS Past Revenue and Net Income, April 24th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. If Hour Glass is cyclical, it could make sense to check out this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

How Hour Glass’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. Due to the way ROCE is calculated, a high level of current liabilities makes a company look as though it has less capital employed, and thus can (sometimes unfairly) boost the ROCE. To counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Hour Glass has total liabilities of S$82m and total assets of S$636m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 13% of its total assets. A fairly low level of current liabilities is not influencing the ROCE too much.

What We Can Learn From Hour Glass’s ROCE

With that in mind, Hour Glass’s ROCE appears pretty good. Hour Glass shapes up well under this analysis, but it is far from the only business delivering excellent numbers . You might also want to check this free collection of companies delivering excellent earnings growth.

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.