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Did You Miss UnitedHealth Group's (NYSE:UNH) Impressive 208% Share Price Gain?

Simply Wall St

While UnitedHealth Group Incorporated (NYSE:UNH) shareholders are probably generally happy, the stock hasn't had particularly good run recently, with the share price falling 14% in the last quarter. But that scarcely detracts from the really solid long term returns generated by the company over five years. It's fair to say most would be happy with 208% the gain in that time. We think it's more important to dwell on the long term returns than the short term returns. Ultimately business performance will determine whether the stock price continues the positive long term trend.

View our latest analysis for UnitedHealth Group

To paraphrase Benjamin Graham: Over the short term the market is a voting machine, but over the long term it's a weighing machine. One flawed but reasonable way to assess how sentiment around a company has changed is to compare the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price.

Over half a decade, UnitedHealth Group managed to grow its earnings per share at 19% a year. This EPS growth is lower than the 25% average annual increase in the share price. So it's fair to assume the market has a higher opinion of the business than it did five years ago. And that's hardly shocking given the track record of growth.

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

NYSE:UNH Past and Future Earnings, April 26th 2019

We know that UnitedHealth Group has improved its bottom line lately, but is it going to grow revenue? You could check out this free report showing analyst revenue forecasts.

What About Dividends?

It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. So for companies that pay a generous dividend, the TSR is often a lot higher than the share price return. In the case of UnitedHealth Group, it has a TSR of 233% for the last 5 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

UnitedHealth Group shareholders are down 2.6% for the year (even including dividends), but the market itself is up 10%. Even the share prices of good stocks drop sometimes, but we want to see improvements in the fundamental metrics of a business, before getting too interested. On the bright side, long term shareholders have made money, with a gain of 27% per year over half a decade. If the fundamental data continues to indicate long term sustainable growth, the current sell-off could be an opportunity worth considering. Most investors take the time to check the data on insider transactions. You can click here to see if insiders have been buying or selling.

But note: UnitedHealth Group 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 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.