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Does Principal Financial Group, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:PFG) P/E Ratio Signal A Buying Opportunity?

Simply Wall St

Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. To keep it practical, we'll show how Principal Financial Group, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:PFG) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Principal Financial Group has a price to earnings ratio of 11.70, based on the last twelve months. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 8.5%.

Check out our latest analysis for Principal Financial Group

How Do I Calculate Principal Financial Group's Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Principal Financial Group:

P/E of 11.70 = $55.59 ÷ $4.75 (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio implies that investors pay a higher price for the earning power of the business. All else being equal, it's better to pay a low price -- but as Warren Buffett said, 'It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price'.

Does Principal Financial Group Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. The image below shows that Principal Financial Group has a lower P/E than the average (16.6) P/E for companies in the insurance industry.

NasdaqGS:PFG Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 9th 2020
NasdaqGS:PFG Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 9th 2020

Principal Financial Group's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. 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

Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. 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. Then, a lower P/E should attract more buyers, pushing the share price up.

Principal Financial Group's earnings per share fell by 37% in the last twelve months. But it has grown its earnings per share by 5.9% per year over the last five years.

Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. Theoretically, a business can improve its earnings (and produce a lower P/E in the future) by investing in growth. That means taking on debt (or spending its cash).

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.

Principal Financial Group's Balance Sheet

Since Principal Financial Group holds net cash of US$228m, it can spend on growth, justifying a higher P/E ratio than otherwise.

The Bottom Line On Principal Financial Group's P/E Ratio

Principal Financial Group has a P/E of 11.7. That's below the average in the US market, which is 18.8. The recent drop in earnings per share would make investors cautious, the healthy balance sheet means the company retains potential for future growth. If that occurs, the current low P/E could prove to be temporary.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. If it is underestimating a company, investors can make money by buying and holding the shares until the market corrects itself. 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 Principal 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 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.