When it comes to investing, there are some useful financial metrics that can warn us when a business is potentially in trouble. When we see a declining return on capital employed (ROCE) in conjunction with a declining base of capital employed, that's often how a mature business shows signs of aging. Trends like this ultimately mean the business is reducing its investments and also earning less on what it has invested. So after we looked into Astec Industries (NASDAQ:ASTE), the trends above didn't look too great.
What is Return On Capital Employed (ROCE)?
Just to clarify if you're unsure, ROCE is a metric for evaluating how much pre-tax income (in percentage terms) a company earns on the capital invested in its business. To calculate this metric for Astec Industries, this is the formula:
Return on Capital Employed = Earnings Before Interest and Tax (EBIT) ÷ (Total Assets - Current Liabilities)
0.027 = US$19m ÷ (US$943m - US$257m) (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2022).
So, Astec Industries has an ROCE of 2.7%. Ultimately, that's a low return and it under-performs the Machinery industry average of 9.9%.
In the above chart we have measured Astec Industries' prior ROCE against its prior performance, but the future is arguably more important. If you're interested, you can view the analysts predictions in our free report on analyst forecasts for the company.
The Trend Of ROCE
We are a bit worried about the trend of returns on capital at Astec Industries. To be more specific, the ROCE was 12% five years ago, but since then it has dropped noticeably. Meanwhile, capital employed in the business has stayed roughly the flat over the period. Companies that exhibit these attributes tend to not be shrinking, but they can be mature and facing pressure on their margins from competition. So because these trends aren't typically conducive to creating a multi-bagger, we wouldn't hold our breath on Astec Industries becoming one if things continue as they have.
What We Can Learn From Astec Industries' ROCE
In the end, the trend of lower returns on the same amount of capital isn't typically an indication that we're looking at a growth stock. It should come as no surprise then that the stock has fallen 15% over the last five years, so it looks like investors are recognizing these changes. With underlying trends that aren't great in these areas, we'd consider looking elsewhere.
One more thing to note, we've identified 2 warning signs with Astec Industries and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
While Astec Industries may not currently earn the highest returns, we've compiled a list of companies that currently earn more than 25% return on equity. Check out this free list here.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.