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Today we’ll look at Quad/Graphics, Inc. (NYSE:QUAD) and reflect on its potential as an investment. To be precise, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

First of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Last but not least, we’ll look at what impact its current liabilities have on 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. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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?

The formula for calculating the return on capital employed is:

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

0.099 = US\$161m ÷ (US\$2.5b – US\$851m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Quad/Graphics has an ROCE of 9.9%.

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, Quad/Graphics’s ROCE appears to be around the 10% average of the Commercial Services industry. Aside from the industry comparison, Quad/Graphics’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

As we can see, Quad/Graphics currently has an ROCE of 9.9% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 7.0%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly.

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 only a point-in-time measure. Since the future is so important for investors, you should check out our free report on analyst forecasts for Quad/Graphics.

### Do Quad/Graphics’s Current Liabilities Skew Its ROCE?

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, 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.

Quad/Graphics has total assets of US\$2.5b and current liabilities of US\$851m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 34% of its total assets. Quad/Graphics has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost its ROCE somewhat.

### What We Can Learn From Quad/Graphics’s ROCE

With this level of liabilities and a mediocre ROCE, there are potentially better investments out there. You might be able to find a better investment than Quad/Graphics. 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 like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.