Should You Care About Graham Holdings Company’s (NYSE:GHC) Investment Potential?

Today we are going to look at Graham Holdings Company (NYSE:GHC) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. 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.

Firstly, 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.

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. 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)

Or for Graham Holdings:

0.095 = US$375m ÷ (US$4.8b – US$812m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Graham Holdings has an ROCE of 9.5%.

Check out our latest analysis for Graham Holdings

Does Graham Holdings Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. It appears that Graham Holdings’s ROCE is fairly close to the Consumer Services industry average of 11%. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Graham Holdings’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.

In our analysis, Graham Holdings’s ROCE appears to be 9.5%, compared to 3 years ago, when its ROCE was 5.5%. This makes us think the business might be improving.

NYSE:GHC Past Revenue and Net Income, March 11th 2019
NYSE:GHC Past Revenue and Net Income, March 11th 2019

When considering this metric, keep in mind that it is backwards looking, and not necessarily predictive. Companies in cyclical industries can be difficult to understand using ROCE, as returns typically look high during boom times, and low during busts. This is because ROCE only looks at one year, instead of considering returns across a whole cycle. You can check if Graham Holdings has cyclical profits by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

How Graham Holdings’s Current Liabilities Impact 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 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Graham Holdings has total assets of US$4.8b and current liabilities of US$812m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 17% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On Graham Holdings’s ROCE

If Graham Holdings continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

I will like Graham Holdings better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

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.