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When close to half the companies in the United States have price-to-earnings ratios (or "P/E's") below 17x, you may consider Acacia Research Corporation (NASDAQ:ACTG) as a stock to avoid entirely with its 39.6x P/E ratio. Although, it's not wise to just take the P/E at face value as there may be an explanation why it's so lofty.
Acacia Research could be doing better as its earnings have been going backwards lately while most other companies have been seeing positive earnings growth. It might be that many expect the dour earnings performance to recover substantially, which has kept the P/E from collapsing. If not, then existing shareholders may be extremely nervous about the viability of the share price.
Keen to find out how analysts think Acacia Research's future stacks up against the industry? In that case, our free report is a great place to start.
Does Growth Match The High P/E?
Acacia Research's P/E ratio would be typical for a company that's expected to deliver very strong growth, and importantly, perform much better than the market.
Taking a look back first, the company's earnings per share growth last year wasn't something to get excited about as it posted a disappointing decline of 73%. Unfortunately, that's brought it right back to where it started three years ago with EPS growth being virtually non-existent overall during that time. Accordingly, shareholders probably wouldn't have been overly satisfied with the unstable medium-term growth rates.
Turning to the outlook, the next year should bring diminished returns, with earnings decreasing 387% as estimated by the only analyst watching the company. Meanwhile, the broader market is forecast to expand by 11%, which paints a poor picture.
With this information, we find it concerning that Acacia Research is trading at a P/E higher than the market. It seems most investors are hoping for a turnaround in the company's business prospects, but the analyst cohort is not so confident this will happen. There's a very good chance these shareholders are setting themselves up for future disappointment if the P/E falls to levels more in line with the negative growth outlook.
The Key Takeaway
Using the price-to-earnings ratio alone to determine if you should sell your stock isn't sensible, however it can be a practical guide to the company's future prospects.
Our examination of Acacia Research's analyst forecasts revealed that its outlook for shrinking earnings isn't impacting its high P/E anywhere near as much as we would have predicted. Right now we are increasingly uncomfortable with the high P/E as the predicted future earnings are highly unlikely to support such positive sentiment for long. Unless these conditions improve markedly, it's very challenging to accept these prices as being reasonable.
It is also worth noting that we have found 4 warning signs for Acacia Research (1 is significant!) that you need to take into consideration.
You might be able to find a better investment than Acacia Research. If you want a selection of possible candidates, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20x (but have proven they can grow earnings).
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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