Are TrueBlue, Inc.’s (NYSE:TBI) Returns Worth Your While?

Today we’ll look at TrueBlue, Inc. (NYSE:TBI) 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 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.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

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. 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’.

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 TrueBlue:

0.093 = US\$84m ÷ (US\$1.1b – US\$226m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Therefore, TrueBlue has an ROCE of 9.3%.

Check out our latest analysis for TrueBlue

Does TrueBlue Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see TrueBlue’s ROCE is around the 11% average reported by the Professional Services industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, TrueBlue’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.

You can see in the image below how TrueBlue’s ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

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. 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 TrueBlue.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect TrueBlue’s 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 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.

TrueBlue has total liabilities of US\$226m and total assets of US\$1.1b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 20% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

The Bottom Line On TrueBlue’s ROCE

If TrueBlue continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than TrueBlue. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.

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. Thank you for reading.