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Did Contact Energy's (NZSE:CEN) Share Price Deserve to Gain 69%?

Simply Wall St

By buying an index fund, investors can approximate the average market return. But if you buy good businesses at attractive prices, your portfolio returns could exceed the average market return. Just take a look at Contact Energy Limited (NZSE:CEN), which is up 69%, over three years, soundly beating the market return of 27% (not including dividends). On the other hand, the returns haven't been quite so good recently, with shareholders up just 55% , including dividends .

See our latest analysis for Contact Energy

While the efficient markets hypothesis continues to be taught by some, it has been proven that markets are over-reactive dynamic systems, and investors are not always rational. One way to examine how market sentiment has changed over time is to look at the interaction between a company's share price and its earnings per share (EPS).

During three years of share price growth, Contact Energy moved from a loss to profitability. That would generally be considered a positive, so we'd expect the share price to be up.

The image below shows how EPS has tracked over time (if you click on the image you can see greater detail).

NZSE:CEN Past and Future Earnings, September 26th 2019

We know that Contact Energy has improved its bottom line over the last three years, but what does the future have in store? You can see how its balance sheet has strengthened (or weakened) over time in this free interactive graphic.

What About Dividends?

As well as measuring the share price return, investors should also consider the total shareholder return (TSR). 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. In the case of Contact Energy, it has a TSR of 103% for the last 3 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!

A Different Perspective

It's good to see that Contact Energy has rewarded shareholders with a total shareholder return of 55% in the last twelve months. Of course, that includes the dividend. That's better than the annualised return of 17% over half a decade, implying that the company is doing better recently. Someone with an optimistic perspective could view the recent improvement in TSR as indicating that the business itself is getting better with time. Before forming an opinion on Contact Energy you might want to consider the cold hard cash it pays as a dividend. This free chart tracks its dividend over time.

But note: Contact Energy may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with past earnings growth (and further growth forecast).

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