Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Inc. (NYSE:NGVC) Might Not Be A Great Investment

Today we’ll look at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, Inc. (NYSE:NGVC) and reflect on its potential as an investment. In particular, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

Firstly, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Then we’ll determine how its current liabilities are affecting 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. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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 Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage:

0.075 = US$18m ÷ (US$320m – US$81m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Therefore, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage has an ROCE of 7.5%.

Check out our latest analysis for Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage

Does Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage’s ROCE appears to be significantly below the 9.7% average in the Consumer Retailing industry. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Aside from the industry comparison, Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage’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.

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage’s current ROCE of 7.5% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 11%, 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds.

NYSE:NGVC Past Revenue and Net Income, August 19th 2019
NYSE:NGVC Past Revenue and Net Income, August 19th 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage.

Do Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage’s Current Liabilities Skew Its 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.

Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage has total assets of US$320m and current liabilities of US$81m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 25% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

Our Take On Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage’s ROCE

If Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. You might be able to find a better investment than Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage. 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.