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What Does Big Lots, Inc.’s (NYSE:BIG) 9.4% ROCE Say About The Business?

Simply Wall St

Today we'll look at Big Lots, Inc. (NYSE:BIG) and reflect on its potential as an investment. Specifically, we're going to calculate its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), in the hopes of getting some insight into the business.

First, we'll go over how we calculate ROCE. Second, we'll look at its ROCE compared to similar companies. Last but not least, we'll look at what impact its current liabilities have on its ROCE.

Understanding Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)

ROCE measures the amount of pre-tax profits a company can generate from the capital employed in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. 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'.

How Do You Calculate Return On Capital Employed?

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 Big Lots:

0.094 = US$231m ÷ (US$3.4b - US$977m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to November 2019.)

Therefore, Big Lots has an ROCE of 9.4%.

Check out our latest analysis for Big Lots

Does Big Lots Have A Good ROCE?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. We can see Big Lots's ROCE is around the 12% average reported by the Multiline Retail industry. Aside from the industry comparison, Big Lots's ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. It is possible that there are more rewarding investments out there.

We can see that, Big Lots currently has an ROCE of 9.4%, less than the 25% it reported 3 years ago. Therefore we wonder if the company is facing new headwinds. You can click on the image below to see (in greater detail) how Big Lots's past growth compares to other companies.

NYSE:BIG Past Revenue and Net Income, February 5th 2020

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, after all, simply a snap shot of a single year. 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 Big Lots's ROCE?

Current liabilities include invoices, such as supplier payments, short-term debt, or a tax bill, that 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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Big Lots has current liabilities of US$977m and total assets of US$3.4b. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 29% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

The Bottom Line On Big Lots's ROCE

With that in mind, we're not overly impressed with Big Lots's ROCE, so it may not be the most appealing prospect. You might be able to find a better investment than Big Lots. 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).

There are plenty of other companies that have insiders buying up shares. You probably do not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.