Is PFSweb, Inc. (NASDAQ:PFSW) Struggling With Its 6.9% Return On Capital Employed?

Today we are going to look at PFSweb, Inc. (NASDAQ:PFSW) 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.

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 measure of a company’s yearly pre-tax profit (its return), relative to the capital employed in the 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.’

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 PFSweb:

0.069 = US$598k ÷ (US$154m – US$62m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2018.)

Therefore, PFSweb has an ROCE of 6.9%.

See our latest analysis for PFSweb

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Is PFSweb’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see PFSweb’s ROCE is meaningfully below the IT industry average of 10%. This performance is not ideal, as it suggests the company may not be deploying its capital as effectively as some competitors. Separate from how PFSweb stacks up against its industry, its ROCE in absolute terms is mediocre; relative to the returns on government bonds. Investors may wish to consider higher-performing investments.

As we can see, PFSweb currently has an ROCE of 6.9% compared to its ROCE 3 years ago, which was 2.6%. This makes us think about whether the company has been reinvesting shrewdly.

NASDAQCM:PFSW Last Perf January 29th 19
NASDAQCM:PFSW Last Perf January 29th 19

Remember that this metric is backwards looking – it shows what has happened in the past, and does not accurately predict the future. 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 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.

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

PFSweb has total liabilities of US$62m and total assets of US$154m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 40% of its total assets. PFSweb has a medium level of current liabilities, which would boost its ROCE somewhat.

What We Can Learn From PFSweb’s ROCE

With this level of liabilities and a mediocre ROCE, there are potentially better investments out there. But note: PFSweb 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).

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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.