Here’s why China Everbright Water Limited’s (SGX:U9E) Returns On Capital Matters So Much

Today we’ll evaluate China Everbright Water Limited (SGX:U9E) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. Specifically, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), since that will give us an insight into how efficiently the business can generate profits from the capital it requires.

First up, we’ll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

Understanding 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. 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’.

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

The formula for calculating the return on capital employed is:

Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets – Current Liabilities)

Or for China Everbright Water:

0.079 = HK$944m ÷ (HK$19b – HK$4.0b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Therefore, China Everbright Water has an ROCE of 7.9%.

Check out our latest analysis for China Everbright Water

Is China Everbright Water’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, China Everbright Water’s ROCE appears to be around the 7.9% average of the Water Utilities industry. Separate from how China Everbright Water stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; not much better than the returns on government bonds. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

SGX:U9E Last Perf December 21st 18
SGX:U9E Last Perf December 21st 18

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is 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. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for China Everbright Water.

How China Everbright Water’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 Everbright Water has total assets of HK$19b and current liabilities of HK$4.0b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 21% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

The Bottom Line On China Everbright Water’s ROCE

If China Everbright Water continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. You might be able to find a better buy than China Everbright Water. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

If you would prefer check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of interesting companies, that have HIGH return on equity and low debt.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.