Unfortunately for some shareholders, the Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK) share price has dived 38% in the last thirty days. That drop has capped off a tough year for shareholders, with the share price down 31% in that time.
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). The implication here is that long term investors have an opportunity when expectations of a company are too low. One way to gauge market expectations of a stock 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.
Does Jack in the Box Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
Jack in the Box's P/E of 19.42 indicates some degree of optimism towards the stock. The image below shows that Jack in the Box has a higher P/E than the average (16.1) P/E for companies in the hospitality industry.
Jack in the Box's P/E tells us that market participants think the company will perform better than its industry peers, going forward. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn't guaranteed. So investors should always consider the P/E ratio alongside other factors, such as whether company directors have been buying shares.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
If earnings fall then in the future the 'E' will be lower. That means even if the current P/E is low, it will increase over time if the share price stays flat. A higher P/E should indicate the stock is expensive relative to others -- and that may encourage shareholders to sell.
Jack in the Box shrunk earnings per share by 39% over the last year. But it has grown its earnings per share by 1.8% per year over the last five years. And over the longer term (3 years) earnings per share have decreased 11% annually. This could justify a low P/E.
Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits
One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. So it won't reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. 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.
So What Does Jack in the Box's Balance Sheet Tell Us?
Jack in the Box has net debt worth a very significant 105% of its market capitalization. This is a relatively high level of debt, so the stock probably deserves a relatively low P/E ratio. Keep that in mind when comparing it to other companies.
The Bottom Line On Jack in the Box's P/E Ratio
Jack in the Box trades on a P/E ratio of 19.4, which is above its market average of 15.1. With meaningful debt and a lack of recent earnings growth, the market has high expectations that the business will earn more in the future. What can be absolutely certain is that the market has become significantly less optimistic about Jack in the Box over the last month, with the P/E ratio falling from 31.2 back then to 19.4 today. For those who prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might be a bad sign, but for a contrarian, it may signal opportunity.
When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. People often underestimate remarkable growth -- so investors can make money when fast growth is not fully appreciated. 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 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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