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Does American Public Education, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:APEI) P/E Ratio Signal A Buying Opportunity?

Simply Wall St

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll look at American Public Education, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:APEI) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. Based on the last twelve months, American Public Education's P/E ratio is 23.44. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 4.3%.

Check out our latest analysis for American Public Education

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for American Public Education:

P/E of 23.44 = $31.44 ÷ $1.34 (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 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.

Does American Public Education Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (26) for companies in the consumer services industry is higher than American Public Education's P/E.

NasdaqGS:APEI Price Estimation Relative to Market, July 22nd 2019

Its relatively low P/E ratio indicates that American Public Education shareholders think it will struggle to do as well as other companies in its industry classification. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

If earnings fall then in the future the 'E' will be lower. That means unless the share price falls, the P/E will increase in a few years. A higher P/E should indicate the stock is expensive relative to others -- and that may encourage shareholders to sell.

American Public Education's earnings per share grew by -3.0% in the last twelve months. But earnings per share are down 10% per year over the last five years.

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

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

While growth expenditure doesn't always pay off, the point is that it is a good option to have; but one that the P/E ratio ignores.

Is Debt Impacting American Public Education's P/E?

American Public Education has net cash of US$214m. This is fairly high at 41% of its market capitalization. That might mean balance sheet strength is important to the business, but should also help push the P/E a bit higher than it would otherwise be.

The Verdict On American Public Education's P/E Ratio

American Public Education's P/E is 23.4 which is above average (17.9) in its market. Recent earnings growth wasn't bad. And the net cash position provides the company with multiple options. The high P/E suggests the market thinks further growth will come.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. People often underestimate remarkable growth -- so investors can make money when fast growth is not fully appreciated. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

But note: American Public Education may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

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.