To the annoyance of some shareholders, CNA Financial (NYSE:CNA) shares are down a considerable 40% in the last month. That drop has capped off a tough year for shareholders, with the share price down 31% in that time.
All else being equal, a share price drop should make a stock more attractive to potential investors. While the market sentiment towards a stock is very changeable, in the long run, the share price will tend to move in the same direction as earnings per share. The implication here is that long term investors have an opportunity when expectations of a company are too low. Perhaps the simplest way to get a read on investors' expectations of a business is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E ratio means that investors have a high expectation about future growth, while a low P/E ratio means they have low expectations about future growth.
How Does CNA Financial's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?
CNA Financial has a P/E ratio of 8.22. The image below shows that CNA Financial has a P/E ratio that is roughly in line with the insurance industry average (8.7).
Its P/E ratio suggests that CNA Financial shareholders think that in the future it will perform about the same as other companies in its industry classification. The company could surprise by performing better than average, in the future. I would further inform my view by checking insider buying and selling., among other things.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. Therefore, even if you pay a high multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become lower in the future. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others -- and that may attract buyers.
CNA Financial increased earnings per share by an impressive 23% over the last twelve months. And earnings per share have improved by 2.3% annually, over the last five years. So one might expect an above average P/E ratio.
A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank
The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. 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.
Such expenditure might be good or bad, in the long term, but the point here is that the balance sheet is not reflected by this ratio.
So What Does CNA Financial's Balance Sheet Tell Us?
CNA Financial has net debt worth just 6.8% of its market capitalization. It would probably trade on a higher P/E ratio if it had a lot of cash, but I doubt it is having a big impact.
The Bottom Line On CNA Financial's P/E Ratio
CNA Financial has a P/E of 8.2. That's below the average in the US market, which is 12.7. The company does have a little debt, and EPS growth was good last year. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low. Given analysts are expecting further growth, one might have expected a higher P/E ratio. That may be worth further research. Given CNA Financial's P/E ratio has declined from 13.7 to 8.2 in the last month, we know for sure that the market is more worried about the business today, than it was back then. For those who prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might be a bad sign, but for deep value investors this stock might justify some research.
Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If the reality for a company is not as bad as the P/E ratio indicates, then the share price should increase as the market realizes this. So this free report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.
But note: CNA Financial 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).
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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