Examining Argan, Inc.’s (NYSE:AGX) Weak Return On Capital Employed

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Today we’ll evaluate Argan, Inc. (NYSE:AGX) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. To be precise, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

Firstly, 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 ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. 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.’

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Argan:

0.015 = US$5.3m ÷ (US$433m – US$71m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to April 2019.)

So, Argan has an ROCE of 1.5%.

View our latest analysis for Argan

Is Argan’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In this analysis, Argan’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.2% average reported by the Construction industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Independently of how Argan compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is low; especially compared to the ~2.7% available in government bonds. Readers may wish to look for more rewarding investments.

Argan’s current ROCE of 1.5% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 33%, 3 years ago. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

NYSE:AGX Past Revenue and Net Income, June 17th 2019
NYSE:AGX Past Revenue and Net Income, June 17th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. 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 Argan.

Argan’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On Its ROCE

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Argan has total assets of US$433m and current liabilities of US$71m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 16% of its total assets. With a very reasonable level of current liabilities, so the impact on ROCE is fairly minimal.

The Bottom Line On Argan’s ROCE

While that is good to see, Argan has a low ROCE and does not look attractive in this analysis. You might be able to find a better investment than Argan. 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).

I will like Argan better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

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.