Today we’ll evaluate Watsco, Inc. (NYSE:WSO) 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.
Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.
Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)
ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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 Watsco:
0.20 = US$363m ÷ (US$2.2b – US$358m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)
So, Watsco has an ROCE of 20%.
Is Watsco’s ROCE Good?
One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. In our analysis, Watsco’s ROCE is meaningfully higher than the 8.1% average in the Trade Distributors industry. We would consider this a positive, as it suggests it is using capital more effectively than other similar companies. Separate from Watsco’s performance relative to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms looks satisfactory, and it may be worth researching in more depth.
When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Watsco.
Do Watsco’s Current Liabilities Skew 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 the ROCE equation works, having large bills due in the near term can make it look as though a company has less capital employed, and thus a higher ROCE than usual. To check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.
Watsco has total assets of US$2.2b and current liabilities of US$358m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 17% of its total assets. Current liabilities are minimal, limiting the impact on ROCE.
What We Can Learn From Watsco’s ROCE
This is good to see, and with a sound ROCE, Watsco could be worth a closer look. Watsco looks strong on this analysis, but there are plenty of other companies that could be a good opportunity . Here is a free list of companies growing earnings rapidly.
If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).
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If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.