Examining GrubHub Inc.’s (NYSE:GRUB) Weak Return On Capital Employed

Today we are going to look at GrubHub Inc. (NYSE:GRUB) 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. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. And finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities are impacting its ROCE.

Return On Capital Employed (ROCE): What is it?

ROCE measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed in its business. All else being equal, a better business will have a higher ROCE. Ultimately, it is a useful but imperfect metric. 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?

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 GrubHub:

0.07 = US$99m ÷ (US$2.0b – US$200m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Therefore, GrubHub has an ROCE of 7.0%.

Check out our latest analysis for GrubHub

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Does GrubHub Have A Good ROCE?

When making comparisons between similar businesses, investors may find ROCE useful. In this analysis, GrubHub’s ROCE appears meaningfully below the 9.1% average reported by the Online Retail industry. This could be seen as a negative, as it suggests some competitors may be employing their capital more efficiently. Aside from the industry comparison, GrubHub’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.

NYSE:GRUB Last Perf January 30th 19
NYSE:GRUB Last Perf January 30th 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for GrubHub.

What Are Current Liabilities, And How Do They Affect GrubHub’s ROCE?

Short term (or current) liabilities, are things like supplier invoices, overdrafts, or tax bills that 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 check the impact of this, we calculate if a company has high current liabilities relative to its total assets.

GrubHub has total liabilities of US$200m and total assets of US$2.0b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 10% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

Our Take On GrubHub’s ROCE

With that in mind, we’re not overly impressed with GrubHub’s ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. But note: GrubHub may not be the best stock to buy. 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 like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.