What Can We Make Of Denny’s Corporation’s (NASDAQ:DENN) High Return On Capital?

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Today we’ll evaluate Denny’s Corporation (NASDAQ:DENN) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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. 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 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?

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 Denny’s:

0.30 = US$70m ÷ (US$329m – US$78m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

So, Denny’s has an ROCE of 30%.

View our latest analysis for Denny’s

Does Denny’s Have A Good ROCE?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. Denny’s’s ROCE appears to be substantially greater than the 9.7% average in the Hospitality industry. I think that’s good to see, since it implies the company is better than other companies at making the most of its capital. Setting aside the comparison to its industry for a moment, Denny’s’s ROCE in absolute terms currently looks quite high.

NASDAQCM:DENN Last Perf February 12th 19
NASDAQCM:DENN Last Perf February 12th 19

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. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Do Denny’s’s Current Liabilities Skew Its 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Denny’s has total liabilities of US$78m and total assets of US$329m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 24% of its total assets. The fairly low level of current liabilities won’t have much impact on the already great ROCE.

Our Take On Denny’s’s ROCE

Low current liabilities and high ROCE is a good combination, making Denny’s look quite interesting. You might be able to find a better buy than Denny’s. 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).

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To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.