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Does Stantec Inc. (TSE:STN) Create Value For Shareholders?

Simply Wall St

Today we’ll evaluate Stantec Inc. (TSE:STN) 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 of all, we’ll work out how to calculate ROCE. 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 is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. Generally speaking a higher ROCE is better. Overall, it is a valuable metric that has its flaws. 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?

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 Stantec:

0.083 = CA$263m ÷ (CA$4.0b – CA$859m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Therefore, Stantec has an ROCE of 8.3%.

View our latest analysis for Stantec

Does Stantec Have A Good ROCE?

ROCE can be useful when making comparisons, such as between similar companies. It appears that Stantec’s ROCE is fairly close to the Professional Services industry average of 8.3%. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Stantec’s ROCE is mediocre in absolute terms, considering the risk of investing in stocks versus the safety of a bank account. Readers may find more attractive investment prospects elsewhere.

Stantec’s current ROCE of 8.3% is lower than 3 years ago, when the company reported a 13% ROCE. So investors might consider if it has had issues recently.

TSX:STN Past Revenue and Net Income, March 14th 2019

It is important to remember that ROCE shows past performance, and is not necessarily predictive. 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. What happens in the future is pretty important for investors, so we have prepared a free report on analyst forecasts for Stantec.

Stantec’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 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.

Stantec has total assets of CA$4.0b and current liabilities of CA$859m. Therefore its current liabilities are equivalent to approximately 21% of its total assets. This very reasonable level of current liabilities would not boost the ROCE by much.

What We Can Learn From Stantec’s ROCE

If Stantec continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. But note: Stantec 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).

I will like Stantec 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.