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Is Commerce Bancshares, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:CBSH) High P/E Ratio A Problem For Investors?

Wade Goff

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). To keep it practical, we’ll show how Commerce Bancshares, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:CBSH) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Commerce Bancshares has a P/E ratio of 15.92, based on the last twelve months. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $15.92 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

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How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Commerce Bancshares:

P/E of 15.92 = $58.09 ÷ $3.65 (Based on the year to September 2018.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that buyers have to pay a higher price for each $1 the company has earned over the last year. 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 even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. Then, a lower P/E should attract more buyers, pushing the share price up.

It’s nice to see that Commerce Bancshares grew EPS by a stonking 42% in the last year. And its annual EPS growth rate over 5 years is 9.1%. I’d therefore be a little surprised if its P/E ratio was not relatively high.

How Does Commerce Bancshares’s P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. The image below shows that Commerce Bancshares has a higher P/E than the average (14.6) P/E for companies in the banks industry.

NasdaqGS:CBSH PE PEG Gauge January 15th 19

Commerce Bancshares’s P/E tells us that market participants think the company will perform better than its industry peers, going forward. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. So further research is always essential. I often monitor director buying and selling.

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

Don’t forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

Such expenditure might be good or bad, in the long term, but the point here is that the balance sheet is not reflected by this ratio.

Commerce Bancshares’s Balance Sheet

Net debt totals just 5.6% of Commerce Bancshares’s market cap. The market might award it a higher P/E ratio if it had net cash, but its unlikely this low level of net borrowing is having a big impact on the P/E multiple.

The Verdict On Commerce Bancshares’s P/E Ratio

Commerce Bancshares trades on a P/E ratio of 15.9, which is fairly close to the US market average of 16.8. Given it has reasonable debt levels, and grew earnings strongly last year, the P/E indicates the market has doubts this growth can be sustained.

Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. If it is underestimating a company, investors can make money by buying and holding the shares until the market corrects itself. 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 Commerce Bancshares. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.