Why Universal Corporation’s (NYSE:UVV) Return On Capital Employed Looks Uninspiring

Today we’ll look at Universal Corporation (NYSE:UVV) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we’re going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First up, we’ll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. 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 metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. Author Edwin Whiting says to be careful when comparing the ROCE of different businesses, since ‘No two businesses are exactly alike.’

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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:

0.097 = US$181m ÷ (US$2.2b – US$358m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

So, Universal has an ROCE of 9.7%.

Check out our latest analysis for Universal

Does Universal Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. We can see Universal’s ROCE is meaningfully below the Tobacco industry average of 15%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Aside from the industry comparison, Universal’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

Our data shows that Universal currently has an ROCE of 9.7%, compared to its ROCE of 7.7% 3 years ago. This makes us think the business might be improving.

NYSE:UVV Past Revenue and Net Income, April 11th 2019
NYSE:UVV Past Revenue and Net Income, April 11th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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. You can check if Universal has cyclical profits by looking at this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect Universal’s 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Universal has total liabilities of US$358m and total assets of US$2.2b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 16% of its total assets. This is a modest level of current liabilities, which would only have a small effect on ROCE.

Our Take On Universal’s ROCE

If Universal 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.

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.