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Does The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.'s (NYSE:HIG) P/E Ratio Signal A Buying Opportunity?

Simply Wall St

Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We'll look at The Hartford Financial Services Group, Inc.'s (NYSE:HIG) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, Hartford Financial Services Group has a P/E ratio of 10.09. In other words, at today's prices, investors are paying $10.09 for every $1 in prior year profit.

See our latest analysis for Hartford Financial Services Group

How Do You Calculate Hartford Financial Services Group's P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Hartford Financial Services Group:

P/E of 10.09 = USD57.72 ÷ USD5.72 (Based on the year to December 2019.)

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying a higher price for each USD1 of company earnings. All else being equal, it's better to pay a low price -- but as Warren Buffett said, 'It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price'.

How Does Hartford Financial Services Group's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (16.1) for companies in the insurance industry is higher than Hartford Financial Services Group's P/E.

NYSE:HIG Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 6th 2020
NYSE:HIG Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 6th 2020

Its relatively low P/E ratio indicates that Hartford Financial Services Group shareholders think it will struggle to do as well as other companies in its industry classification. Since the market seems unimpressed with Hartford Financial Services Group, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Generally speaking the rate of earnings growth has a profound impact on a company's P/E multiple. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. Therefore, even if you pay a high multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become lower in the future. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

It's nice to see that Hartford Financial Services Group grew EPS by a stonking 39% in the last year. And earnings per share have improved by 13% annually, over the last five years. With that performance, I would expect it to have 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. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

Spending on growth might be good or bad a few years later, but the point is that the P/E ratio does not account for the option (or lack thereof).

How Does Hartford Financial Services Group's Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?

Hartford Financial Services Group has net debt worth just 7.4% 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 Hartford Financial Services Group's P/E Ratio

Hartford Financial Services Group's P/E is 10.1 which is below average (18.5) in the US market. The company hasn't stretched its balance sheet, and earnings growth was good last year. The low P/E ratio suggests current market expectations are muted, implying these levels of growth will not continue.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, 'In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine. So this free report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.