Is Universal Corporation (NYSE:UVV) Investing Your Capital Efficiently?

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Today we’ll look at Universal Corporation (NYSE:UVV) and reflect on its potential as an investment. In particular, we’ll consider its Return On Capital Employed (ROCE), as that can give us insight into how profitably the company is able to employ capital in its business.

First, we’ll go over how we calculate ROCE. Next, we’ll compare it to others in its industry. Finally, we’ll look at how its current liabilities affect its ROCE.

What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?

ROCE measures the ‘return’ (pre-tax profit) a company generates from capital employed 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 Universal:

0.084 = US$157m ÷ (US$2.2b – US$271m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2019.)

Therefore, Universal has an ROCE of 8.4%.

Check out our latest analysis for Universal

Is Universal’s ROCE Good?

One way to assess ROCE is to compare similar companies. Using our data, Universal’s ROCE appears to be significantly below the 19% average in the Tobacco industry. This performance could be negative if sustained, as it suggests the business may underperform its industry. Setting aside the industry comparison for now, Universal’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.

You can see in the image below how Universal’s ROCE compares to its industry. Click to see more on past growth.

NYSE:UVV Past Revenue and Net Income, February 18th 2020

When considering ROCE, bear in mind that it reflects the past and does not necessarily predict the future. ROCE can be misleading for companies in cyclical industries, with returns looking impressive during the boom times, but very weak during the busts. ROCE is only a point-in-time measure. If Universal is cyclical, it could make sense to check out this free graph of past earnings, revenue and cash flow.

How Universal’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 counter this, investors can check if a company has high current liabilities relative to total assets.

Universal has total assets of US$2.2b and current liabilities of US$271m. As a result, its current liabilities are equal to approximately 13% of its total assets. It is good to see a restrained amount of current liabilities, as this limits the effect on ROCE.

Our Take On Universal’s ROCE

If Universal continues to earn an uninspiring ROCE, there may be better places to invest. You might be able to find a better investment than Universal. 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).

If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).

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.

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