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Did Changing Sentiment Drive Saul Centers's (NYSE:BFS) Share Price Down By 20%?

Simply Wall St

In order to justify the effort of selecting individual stocks, it's worth striving to beat the returns from a market index fund. But the risk of stock picking is that you will likely buy under-performing companies. We regret to report that long term Saul Centers, Inc. (NYSE:BFS) shareholders have had that experience, with the share price dropping 20% in three years, versus a market return of about 44%.

See our latest analysis for Saul Centers

To paraphrase Benjamin Graham: Over the short term the market is a voting machine, but over the long term it's a weighing machine. By comparing earnings per share (EPS) and share price changes over time, we can get a feel for how investor attitudes to a company have morphed over time.

During the unfortunate three years of share price decline, Saul Centers actually saw its earnings per share (EPS) improve by 4.5% per year. Given the share price reaction, one might suspect that EPS is not a good guide to the business performance during the period (perhaps due to a one-off loss or gain). Alternatively, growth expectations may have been unreasonable in the past.

It's pretty reasonable to suspect the market was previously to bullish on the stock, and has since moderated expectations. However, taking a look at other business metrics might shed a bit more light on the share price action.

The company has kept revenue pretty healthy over the last three years, so we doubt that explains the falling share price. We're not entirely sure why the share price is dropped, but it does seem likely investors have become less optimistic about the business.

The company's revenue and earnings (over time) are depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).

NYSE:BFS Income Statement, October 11th 2019

It's probably worth noting that the CEO is paid less than the median at similar sized companies. It's always worth keeping an eye on CEO pay, but a more important question is whether the company will grow earnings throughout the years. If you are thinking of buying or selling Saul Centers stock, you should check out this free report showing analyst profit forecasts.

What About Dividends?

It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. The TSR is a return calculation that accounts for the value of cash dividends (assuming that any dividend received was reinvested) and the calculated value of any discounted capital raisings and spin-offs. So for companies that pay a generous dividend, the TSR is often a lot higher than the share price return. We note that for Saul Centers the TSR over the last 3 years was -11%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!

A Different Perspective

Saul Centers's TSR for the year was broadly in line with the market average, at 8.2%. That gain looks pretty satisfying, and it is even better than the five-year TSR of 5.1% per year. It is possible that management foresight will bring growth well into the future, even if the share price slows down. If you would like to research Saul Centers in more detail then you might want to take a look at whether insiders have been buying or selling shares in the company.

We will like Saul Centers better if we see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.

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.