Why Stericycle, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:SRCL) Return On Capital Employed Looks Uninspiring

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Today we are going to look at Stericycle, Inc. (NASDAQ:SRCL) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE is a measure of a company’s yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the 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 Stericycle:

0.056 = US$505m ÷ (US$6.9b – US$749m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Therefore, Stericycle has an ROCE of 5.6%.

Check out our latest analysis for Stericycle

Does Stericycle Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see Stericycle’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Commercial Services industry average of 11%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Regardless of how Stericycle stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is quite low (especially compared to a bank account). There are potentially more appealing investments elsewhere.

Stericycle’s current ROCE of 5.6% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 13% ROCE. This makes us wonder if the business is facing new challenges.

NasdaqGS:SRCL Past Revenue and Net Income, February 20th 2019
NasdaqGS:SRCL Past Revenue and Net Income, February 20th 2019

Remember that this metric is backwards looking – it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. ROCE can be deceptive for cyclical businesses, as returns can look incredible in boom times, and terribly low in downturns. 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 Stericycle’s ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that 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.

Stericycle has total liabilities of US$749m and total assets of US$6.9b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 11% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which will have a limited impact on the ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Stericycle’s ROCE

While that is good to see, Stericycle has a low ROCE and does not look attractive in this analysis. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

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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.