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Is ArcBest Corporation's (NASDAQ:ARCB) P/E Ratio Really That Good?

Simply Wall St

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Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We'll show how you can use ArcBest Corporation's (NASDAQ:ARCB) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. ArcBest has a price to earnings ratio of 12.09, based on the last twelve months. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 8.3%.

See our latest analysis for ArcBest

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

Price to Earnings Ratio = Price per Share ÷ Earnings per Share (EPS)

Or for ArcBest:

P/E of 12.09 = $29.23 ÷ $2.42 (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

The higher the P/E ratio, the higher the price tag of a business, relative to its trailing earnings. That is not a good or a bad thing per se, but a high P/E does imply buyers are optimistic about the future.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. That means unless the share price increases, the P/E will reduce in a few years. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

ArcBest saw earnings per share decrease by 19% last year. But EPS is up 22% over the last 5 years.

How Does ArcBest's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

The P/E ratio essentially measures market expectations of a company. The image below shows that ArcBest has a lower P/E than the average (18) P/E for companies in the transportation industry.

NasdaqGS:ARCB Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 8th 2019

Its relatively low P/E ratio indicates that ArcBest shareholders think it will struggle to do as well as other companies in its industry classification. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.

Is Debt Impacting ArcBest's P/E?

Net debt totals 13% of ArcBest's market cap. It would probably deserve a higher P/E ratio if it was net cash, since it would have more options for growth.

The Bottom Line On ArcBest's P/E Ratio

ArcBest trades on a P/E ratio of 12.1, which is below the US market average of 18.2. The debt levels are not a major concern, but the lack of EPS growth is likely weighing on sentiment.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, 'In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.' So this free visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.

But note: ArcBest 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).

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.