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Does Image Sensing Systems, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:ISNS) P/E Ratio Signal A Buying Opportunity?

Simply Wall St

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This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). To keep it practical, we'll show how Image Sensing Systems, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:ISNS) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Based on the last twelve months, Image Sensing Systems's P/E ratio is 12.05. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $12.05 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

View our latest analysis for Image Sensing Systems

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Image Sensing Systems:

P/E of 12.05 = $5.06 ÷ $0.42 (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 is not a good or a bad thing per se, but a high P/E does imply buyers are optimistic about the future.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. 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.

Most would be impressed by Image Sensing Systems earnings growth of 16% in the last year. And earnings per share have improved by 80% annually, over the last three years. This could arguably justify a relatively high P/E ratio.

How Does Image Sensing Systems's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (17.7) for companies in the electronic industry is higher than Image Sensing Systems's P/E.

NasdaqCM:ISNS Price Estimation Relative to Market, June 6th 2019

This suggests that market participants think Image Sensing Systems will underperform other companies in its industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with Image Sensing Systems, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.

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

It's important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. The exact same company would hypothetically deserve a higher P/E ratio if it had a strong balance sheet, than if it had a weak one with lots of debt, because a cashed up company can spend on 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.

Image Sensing Systems's Balance Sheet

Image Sensing Systems has net cash of US$3.6m. This is fairly high at 13% 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 Image Sensing Systems's P/E Ratio

Image Sensing Systems has a P/E of 12.1. That's below the average in the US market, which is 17.4. It grew its EPS nicely over the last year, and the healthy balance sheet implies there is more potential for growth. One might conclude that the market is a bit pessimistic, given the low P/E ratio.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If it is underestimating a company, investors can make money by buying and holding the shares until the market corrects itself. Although we don't have analyst forecasts, you might want to assess this data-rich visualization of earnings, revenue and cash flow.

But note: Image Sensing Systems 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.