To the annoyance of some shareholders, Hawthorn Bancshares (NASDAQ:HWBK) shares are down a considerable 43% in the last month. Indeed the recent decline has arguably caused some bitterness for shareholders who have held through the 39% drop over twelve months.
Assuming nothing else has changed, a lower share price makes a stock more attractive to potential buyers. In the long term, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, but in the short term prices bounce around in response to short term factors (which are not always obvious). So, on certain occasions, long term focussed investors try to take advantage of pessimistic expectations to buy shares at a better price. 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). Investors have optimistic expectations of companies with higher P/E ratios, compared to companies with lower P/E ratios.
Does Hawthorn Bancshares Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
Hawthorn Bancshares's P/E of 5.23 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. The image below shows that Hawthorn Bancshares has a lower P/E than the average (9.4) P/E for companies in the banks industry.
Hawthorn Bancshares's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with Hawthorn Bancshares, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. If you consider the stock interesting, further research is recommended. For example, I often monitor director buying and 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. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others -- and that may attract buyers.
Hawthorn Bancshares's earnings made like a rocket, taking off 50% last year. The sweetener is that the annual five year growth rate of 16% is also impressive. So I'd be surprised if the P/E ratio was not above average.
Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet
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.
Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.
Hawthorn Bancshares's Balance Sheet
Hawthorn Bancshares has net debt worth a very significant 151% of its market capitalization. If you want to compare its P/E ratio to other companies, you must keep in mind that these debt levels would usually warrant a relatively low P/E.
The Bottom Line On Hawthorn Bancshares's P/E Ratio
Hawthorn Bancshares has a P/E of 5.2. That's below the average in the US market, which is 12.7. The company has a meaningful amount of debt on the balance sheet, but that should not eclipse the solid earnings growth. If it continues to grow, then the current low P/E may prove to be unjustified. Given Hawthorn Bancshares's P/E ratio has declined from 9.2 to 5.2 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.
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. We don't have analyst forecasts, but you could get a better understanding of its growth by checking out this more detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.
You might be able to find a better buy than Hawthorn Bancshares. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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