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Despite Its High P/E Ratio, Is Marten Transport, Ltd. (NASDAQ:MRTN) Still Undervalued?

Simply Wall St

The goal of this article is to teach you how to use price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll apply a basic P/E ratio analysis to Marten Transport, Ltd.'s (NASDAQ:MRTN), to help you decide if the stock is worth further research. Based on the last twelve months, Marten Transport's P/E ratio is 16.67. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 6.0%.

View our latest analysis for Marten Transport

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 Marten Transport:

P/E of 16.67 = $18.24 ÷ $1.09 (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

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 isn't a good or a bad thing on its own, but a high P/E means that buyers have a higher opinion of the business's prospects, relative to stocks with a lower P/E.

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

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (16.3) for companies in the transportation industry is roughly the same as Marten Transport's P/E.

NasdaqGS:MRTN Price Estimation Relative to Market, August 26th 2019

That indicates that the market expects Marten Transport will perform roughly in line with other companies in its industry. The company could surprise by performing better than average, in the future. Further research into factors such as insider buying and selling, could help you form your own view on whether that is likely.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. That means unless the share price increases, the P/E will reduce in a few years. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others -- and that may attract buyers.

Marten Transport shrunk earnings per share by 38% over the last year. But over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have increased by 16%.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. So it won't reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. 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.

Is Debt Impacting Marten Transport's P/E?

Since Marten Transport holds net cash of US$83m, it can spend on growth, justifying a higher P/E ratio than otherwise.

The Verdict On Marten Transport's P/E Ratio

Marten Transport has a P/E of 16.7. That's around the same as the average in the US market, which is 17. Although the recent drop in earnings per share would keep the market cautious, the net cash position means it's not surprising that expectations put the company roughly in line with the market average P/E.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. 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.

You might be able to find a better buy than Marten Transport. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

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.