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Does CNA Financial Corporation’s (NYSE:CNA) PE Ratio Signal A Buying Opportunity?

This analysis is intended to introduce important early concepts to people who are starting to invest and want to learn about the link between company’s fundamentals and stock market performance.

CNA Financial Corporation (NYSE:CNA) is trading with a trailing P/E of 13.2x, which is lower than the industry average of 19x. While this makes CNA appear like a great stock to buy, you might change your mind after I explain the assumptions behind the P/E ratio. Today, I will break down what the P/E ratio is, how to interpret it and what to watch out for.

View our latest analysis for CNA Financial

Demystifying the P/E ratio

NYSE:CNA PE PEG Gauge October 11th 18

P/E is often used for relative valuation since earnings power is a chief driver of investment value. By comparing a stock’s price per share to its earnings per share, we are able to see how much investors are paying for each dollar of the company’s earnings.

P/E Calculation for CNA

Price-Earnings Ratio = Price per share ÷ Earnings per share

CNA Price-Earnings Ratio = $45.11 ÷ $3.42 = 13.2x

On its own, the P/E ratio doesn’t tell you much; however, it becomes extremely useful when you compare it with other similar companies. We want to compare the stock’s P/E ratio to the average of companies that have similar characteristics as CNA, such as size and country of operation. A common peer group is companies that exist in the same industry, which is what I use. At 13.2, CNA’s P/E is lower than its industry peers (19). This implies that investors are undervaluing each dollar of CNA’s earnings. This multiple is a median of profitable companies of 25 Insurance companies in US including Genworth Financial, Syncora Holdings and Reinsurance Group of America. One could put it like this: the market is pricing CNA as if it is a weaker company than the average company in its industry.

A few caveats

Before you jump to conclusions it is important to realise that our assumptions rests on two assertions. Firstly, our peer group contains companies that are similar to CNA. If this isn’t the case, the difference in P/E could be due to other factors. For example, if you compared higher growth firms with CNA, then its P/E would naturally be lower since investors would reward its peers’ higher growth with a higher price. The second assumption that must hold true is that the stocks we are comparing CNA to are fairly valued by the market. If this does not hold true, CNA’s lower P/E ratio may be because firms in our peer group are overvalued by the market.

What this means for you:

If your personal research into the stock confirms what the P/E ratio is telling you, it might be a good time to add more of CNA to your portfolio. But keep in mind that the usefulness of relative valuation depends on whether you are comfortable with making the assumptions I mentioned above. Remember that basing your investment decision off one metric alone is certainly not sufficient. There are many things I have not taken into account in this article and the PE ratio is very one-dimensional. If you have not done so already, I urge you to complete your research by taking a look at the following:

  1. Future Outlook: What are well-informed industry analysts predicting for CNA’s future growth? Take a look at our free research report of analyst consensus for CNA’s outlook.
  2. Past Track Record: Has CNA been consistently performing well irrespective of the ups and downs in the market? Go into more detail in the past performance analysis and take a look at the free visual representations of CNA’s historicals for more clarity.
  3. Other High-Performing Stocks: Are there other stocks that provide better prospects with proven track records? Explore our free list of these great stocks here.

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.