Is There More To Sonoco Products Company (NYSE:SON) Than Its 13% Returns On Capital?

Today we are going to look at Sonoco Products Company (NYSE:SON) to see whether it might be an attractive investment prospect. To be precise, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that will inform our view of the quality of the business.

First up, we’ll look at what ROCE is and how we calculate it. Second, we’ll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. In general, businesses with a higher ROCE are usually better quality. In brief, it is a useful tool, but it is not without drawbacks. 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 Sonoco Products:

0.13 = US$500m ÷ (US$4.9b – US$1.2b) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Therefore, Sonoco Products has an ROCE of 13%.

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Is Sonoco Products’s ROCE Good?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. It appears that Sonoco Products’s ROCE is fairly close to the Packaging industry average of 12%. Regardless of where Sonoco Products sits next to its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms appears satisfactory, and this company could be worth a closer look.

NYSE:SON Past Revenue and Net Income, May 25th 2019
NYSE:SON Past Revenue and Net Income, May 25th 2019

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily 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 only a point-in-time measure. Future performance is what matters, and you can see analyst predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.

Sonoco Products’s Current Liabilities And Their Impact On 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

Sonoco Products has total assets of US$4.9b and current liabilities of US$1.2b. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 23% of its total assets. Current liabilities are minimal, limiting the impact on ROCE.

What We Can Learn From Sonoco Products’s ROCE

This is good to see, and with a sound ROCE, Sonoco Products could be worth a closer look. Sonoco Products looks strong on this analysis, but there are plenty of other companies that could be a good opportunity . Here is a free list of companies growing earnings rapidly.

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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.