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How Does National Western Life Group's (NASDAQ:NWLI) P/E Compare To Its Industry, After Its Big Share Price Gain?

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Those holding National Western Life Group (NASDAQ:NWLI) shares must be pleased that the share price has rebounded 44% in the last thirty days. But unfortunately, the stock is still down by 33% over a quarter. But shareholders may not all be feeling jubilant, since the share price is still down 28% in the last year.

Assuming no other changes, a sharply higher share price makes a stock less attractive to potential buyers. While the market sentiment towards a stock is very changeable, in the long run, the share price will tend to move in the same direction as earnings per share. So some would prefer to hold off buying when there is a lot of optimism towards a stock. One way to gauge market expectations of a stock is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E implies that investors have high expectations of what a company can achieve compared to a company with a low P/E ratio.

View our latest analysis for National Western Life Group

How Does National Western Life Group's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

We can tell from its P/E ratio of 5.17 that sentiment around National Western Life Group isn't particularly high. The image below shows that National Western Life Group has a lower P/E than the average (9.4) P/E for companies in the insurance industry.

NasdaqGS:NWLI Price Estimation Relative to Market April 20th 2020
NasdaqGS:NWLI Price Estimation Relative to Market April 20th 2020

This suggests that market participants think National Western Life Group will underperform other companies in its industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with National Western Life Group, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or 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. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. Therefore, even if you pay a high multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become lower in the future. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.

Most would be impressed by National Western Life Group earnings growth of 13% in the last year. And earnings per share have improved by 4.5% annually, over the last five years. This could arguably justify a relatively high P/E ratio.

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. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

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.

How Does National Western Life Group's Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?

National Western Life Group has net cash of US$254m. This is fairly high at 37% 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 National Western Life Group's P/E Ratio

National Western Life Group trades on a P/E ratio of 5.2, which is below the US market average of 13.6. Not only should the net cash position reduce risk, but the recent growth has been impressive. The relatively low P/E ratio implies the market is pessimistic. What we know for sure is that investors are becoming less uncomfortable about National Western Life Group's prospects, since they have pushed its P/E ratio from 3.6 to 5.2 over the last month. For those who like to invest in turnarounds, that might mean it's time to put the stock on a watchlist, or research it. But others might consider the opportunity to have passed.

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 shareholders might want to examine this detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.

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 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.

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. Thank you for reading.