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What Does MSA Safety Incorporated's (NYSE:MSA) P/E Ratio Tell You?

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This article is written for those who want to get better at using price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll show how you can use MSA Safety Incorporated's (NYSE:MSA) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Based on the last twelve months, MSA Safety's P/E ratio is 34.85. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $34.85 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

See our latest analysis for MSA Safety

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for MSA Safety:

P/E of 34.85 = $104.13 ÷ $2.99 (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

The higher the P/E ratio, the higher the price tag of a business, relative to its trailing earnings. That isn't a good or a bad thing on its own, but a high P/E means that buyers have a higher opinion of the business's prospects, relative to stocks with a lower P/E.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. Then, a lower P/E should attract more buyers, pushing the share price up.

In the last year, MSA Safety grew EPS like Taylor Swift grew her fan base back in 2010; the 160% gain was both fast and well deserved. And earnings per share have improved by 15% annually, over the last three years. So we'd absolutely expect it to have a relatively high P/E ratio.

Does MSA Safety Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. The image below shows that MSA Safety has a higher P/E than the average (22.8) P/E for companies in the commercial services industry.

NYSE:MSA Price Estimation Relative to Market, July 5th 2019

That means that the market expects MSA Safety will outperform other companies in its industry. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. So investors should always consider the P/E ratio alongside other factors, such as whether company directors have been buying shares.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

While growth expenditure doesn't always pay off, the point is that it is a good option to have; but one that the P/E ratio ignores.

So What Does MSA Safety's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

MSA Safety's net debt is 4.9% of its market cap. The market might award it a higher P/E ratio if it had net cash, but its unlikely this low level of net borrowing is having a big impact on the P/E multiple.

The Verdict On MSA Safety's P/E Ratio

MSA Safety trades on a P/E ratio of 34.9, which is above the US market average of 18.2. The company is not overly constrained by its modest debt levels, and its recent EPS growth is nothing short of stand-out. So to be frank we are not surprised it has a high P/E ratio.

Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. If the reality for a company is better than it expects, you can make money by buying and holding for the long term. 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.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than MSA Safety. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.