How Good Is CRA International, Inc. (NASDAQ:CRAI) At Creating Shareholder Value?

Today we’ll look at CRA International, Inc. (NASDAQ:CRAI) and reflect on its potential as an investment. 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, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. 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. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 CRA International:

0.13 = US$29m ÷ (US$371m – US$142m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, CRA International has an ROCE of 13%.

Check out our latest analysis for CRA International

Is CRA International’s ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. It appears that CRA International’s ROCE is fairly close to the Professional Services industry average of 12%. Independently of how CRA International compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears decent, and the company may be worthy of closer investigation.

As we can see, CRA International currently has an ROCE of 13% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 7.5%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly.

NasdaqGS:CRAI Past Revenue and Net Income, April 25th 2019
NasdaqGS:CRAI Past Revenue and Net Income, April 25th 2019

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. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect CRA International’s ROCE?

Current liabilities are short term bills and invoices that need to be paid in 12 months or less. 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

CRA International has total assets of US$371m and current liabilities of US$142m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 38% of its total assets. With this level of current liabilities, CRA International’s ROCE is boosted somewhat.

What We Can Learn From CRA International’s ROCE

While its ROCE looks good, it’s worth remembering that the current liabilities are making the business look better. There might be better investments than CRA International out there, but you will have to work hard to find them . These promising businesses with rapidly growing earnings might be right up your alley.

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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.