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The 4.9% return this week takes AltaGas' (TSE:ALA) shareholders five-year gains to 142%

Generally speaking the aim of active stock picking is to find companies that provide returns that are superior to the market average. And the truth is, you can make significant gains if you buy good quality businesses at the right price. For example, long term AltaGas Ltd. (TSE:ALA) shareholders have enjoyed a 91% share price rise over the last half decade, well in excess of the market return of around 34% (not including dividends). However, more recent returns haven't been as impressive as that, with the stock returning just 31% in the last year , including dividends .

Since it's been a strong week for AltaGas shareholders, let's have a look at trend of the longer term fundamentals.

Check out our latest analysis for AltaGas

In his essay The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville Warren Buffett described how share prices do not always rationally reflect the value of a business. One way to examine how market sentiment has changed over time is to look at the interaction between a company's share price and its earnings per share (EPS).

During the last half decade, AltaGas became profitable. That's generally thought to be a genuine positive, so we would expect to see an increasing share price. Given that the company made a profit three years ago, but not five years ago, it is worth looking at the share price returns over the last three years, too. We can see that the AltaGas share price is up 52% in the last three years. Meanwhile, EPS is up 20% per year. This EPS growth is higher than the 15% average annual increase in the share price over the same three years. Therefore, it seems the market has moderated its expectations for growth, somewhat.

The company's earnings per share (over time) is depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).

earnings-per-share-growth
earnings-per-share-growth

It's good to see that there was some significant insider buying in the last three months. That's a positive. On the other hand, we think the revenue and earnings trends are much more meaningful measures of the business. This free interactive report on AltaGas' earnings, revenue and cash flow is a great place to start, if you want to investigate the stock further.

What About Dividends?

It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. We note that for AltaGas the TSR over the last 5 years was 142%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. This is largely a result of its dividend payments!

A Different Perspective

It's nice to see that AltaGas shareholders have received a total shareholder return of 31% over the last year. That's including the dividend. That gain is better than the annual TSR over five years, which is 19%. Therefore it seems like sentiment around the company has been positive lately. In the best case scenario, this may hint at some real business momentum, implying that now could be a great time to delve deeper. It's always interesting to track share price performance over the longer term. But to understand AltaGas better, we need to consider many other factors. For example, we've discovered 4 warning signs for AltaGas (1 is significant!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

AltaGas is not the only stock that insiders are buying. For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on Canadian exchanges.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.

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