Should You Worry About Universal Electronics Inc.’s (NASDAQ:UEIC) ROCE?

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Today we’ll evaluate Universal Electronics Inc. (NASDAQ:UEIC) 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.

First, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Then we’ll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

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. 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?

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 Universal Electronics:

0.0092 = US$2.5m ÷ (US$556m – US$280m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Universal Electronics has an ROCE of 0.9%.

View our latest analysis for Universal Electronics

Is Universal Electronics’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see Universal Electronics’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Consumer Durables industry average of 11%. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Independently of how Universal Electronics compares to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is low; especially compared to the ~2.7% available in government bonds. It is likely that there are more attractive prospects out there.

As we can see, Universal Electronics currently has an ROCE of 0.9%, less than the 13% it reported 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds.

NasdaqGS:UEIC Past Revenue and Net Income, May 1st 2019
NasdaqGS:UEIC Past Revenue and Net Income, May 1st 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 misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the busts. 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 Universal Electronics.

Universal Electronics’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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.

Universal Electronics has total liabilities of US$280m and total assets of US$556m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 50% of its total assets. This is a fairly high level of current liabilities, boosting Universal Electronics’s ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Universal Electronics’s ROCE

Universal Electronics’s ROCE is also pretty low (in absolute terms), making the stock look unattractive on this analysis. Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than Universal Electronics. 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).

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.