To the annoyance of some shareholders, Jefferies Financial Group (NYSE:JEF) shares are down a considerable 34% in the last month. Indeed the recent decline has arguably caused some bitterness for shareholders who have held through the 30% drop over twelve months.
All else being equal, a share price drop should make a stock more attractive to potential investors. 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 Jefferies Financial Group Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
Jefferies Financial Group's P/E of 4.11 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. The image below shows that Jefferies Financial Group has a lower P/E than the average (5.1) P/E for companies in the diversified financial industry.
Its relatively low P/E ratio indicates that Jefferies Financial Group shareholders think it will struggle to do as well as other companies in its industry classification. Many investors like to buy stocks when the market is pessimistic about their prospects. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. If earnings are growing quickly, then the 'E' in the equation will increase faster than it would otherwise. 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.
Jefferies Financial Group's 148% EPS improvement over the last year was like bamboo growth after rain; rapid and impressive. The cherry on top is that the five year growth rate was an impressive 20% per year. With that kind of growth rate we would generally expect a high P/E ratio.
Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet
The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. 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.
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).
Is Debt Impacting Jefferies Financial Group's P/E?
Jefferies Financial Group has net debt worth 52% of its market capitalization. This is a reasonably significant level of debt -- all else being equal you'd expect a much lower P/E than if it had net cash.
The Verdict On Jefferies Financial Group's P/E Ratio
Jefferies Financial Group trades on a P/E ratio of 4.1, which is below the US market average of 13.1. The company may have significant debt, but EPS growth was good last year. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low. What can be absolutely certain is that the market has become more pessimistic about Jefferies Financial Group over the last month, with the P/E ratio falling from 6.2 back then to 4.1 today. 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. 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 visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.
You might be able to find a better buy than Jefferies Financial Group. 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 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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