UK markets closed

Why We’re Not Impressed By Pets at Home Group Plc’s (LON:PETS) 4.7% ROCE

Simply Wall St

Today we'll evaluate Pets at Home Group Plc (LON:PETS) to determine whether it could have potential as an investment idea. 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. Then we'll compare its ROCE to similar companies. Finally, we'll look at how its current liabilities affect 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'.

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 at Home Group:

0.047 = UK£53m ÷ (UK£1.3b - UK£219m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Therefore, at Home Group has an ROCE of 4.7%.

View our latest analysis for at Home Group

Does at Home Group Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. We can see at Home Group's ROCE is meaningfully below the Specialty Retail industry average of 14%. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Separate from how at Home Group 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.

at Home Group's current ROCE of 4.7% is lower than its ROCE in the past, which was 9.4%, 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. You can see in the image below how at Home Group's ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

LSE:PETS Past Revenue and Net Income, September 26th 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.

How at Home Group'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. 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 counteract this, we check if a company has high current liabilities, relative to its total assets.

at Home Group has total assets of UK£1.3b and current liabilities of UK£219m. 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 at Home Group's ROCE

That said, at Home Group's ROCE is mediocre, there may be more attractive investments around. You might be able to find a better investment than at Home Group. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

I will like at Home Group better if I see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider 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.