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Is AstroNova, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:ALOT) P/E Ratio Really That Good?

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Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. To keep it practical, we'll show how AstroNova, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:ALOT) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Based on the last twelve months, AstroNova's P/E ratio is 14.92. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $14.92 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

View our latest analysis for AstroNova

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for AstroNova:

P/E of 14.92 = USD11.54 ÷ USD0.77 (Based on the year to November 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio implies that investors pay a higher price for the earning power of the business. That is not a good or a bad thing per se, but a high P/E does imply buyers are optimistic about the future.

Does AstroNova Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. If you look at the image below, you can see AstroNova has a lower P/E than the average (20.0) in the tech industry classification.

NasdaqGM:ALOT Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 27th 2020
NasdaqGM:ALOT Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 27th 2020

AstroNova's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with AstroNova, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. Therefore, even if you pay a high multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become lower in the future. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others -- and that may attract buyers.

AstroNova increased earnings per share by a whopping 27% last year. And it has bolstered its earnings per share by 5.5% per year over the last five years. So we'd generally expect it to have a relatively high P/E ratio.

A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank

It's important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. So it won't reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. 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 AstroNova's P/E?

Net debt totals 20% of AstroNova'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 Verdict On AstroNova's P/E Ratio

AstroNova has a P/E of 14.9. That's below the average in the US market, which is 17.1. The EPS growth last year was strong, and debt levels are quite reasonable. If it continues to grow, then the current low P/E may prove to be unjustified.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If the reality for a company is not as bad as the P/E ratio indicates, then the share price should increase as the market realizes this. 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.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than AstroNova. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.