Is Olympic Steel, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:ZEUS) Return On Capital Employed Any Good?

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Today we are going to look at Olympic Steel, Inc. (NASDAQ:ZEUS) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. Specifically, we’re going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. 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.’

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Olympic Steel:

0.076 = US$51m ÷ (US$799m – US$130m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Therefore, Olympic Steel has an ROCE of 7.6%.

Check out our latest analysis for Olympic Steel

Is Olympic Steel’s ROCE Good?

ROCE is commonly used for comparing the performance of similar businesses. Using our data, Olympic Steel’s ROCE appears to be around the 9.1% average of the Metals and Mining industry. Separate from how Olympic Steel stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

Olympic Steel reported an ROCE of 7.6% — better than 3 years ago, when the company didn’t make a profit. That implies the business has been improving.

NasdaqGS:ZEUS Past Revenue and Net Income, July 12th 2019
NasdaqGS:ZEUS Past Revenue and Net Income, July 12th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is 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. ROCE is, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. Remember that most companies like Olympic Steel are cyclical businesses. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Olympic Steel.

How Olympic Steel’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. The ROCE equation subtracts current liabilities from capital employed, so a company with a lot of current liabilities appears to have less capital employed, and a higher ROCE than otherwise. To counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

Olympic Steel has total assets of US$799m and current liabilities of US$130m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 16% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

The Bottom Line On Olympic Steel’s ROCE

That said, Olympic Steel’s ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. But note: make sure you look for a great company, not just the first idea you come across. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are 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.