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Generally speaking the aim of active stock picking is to find companies that provide returns that are superior to the market average. Buying under-rated businesses is one path to excess returns. For example, the Stantec Inc. (TSE:STN) share price is up 83% in the last 5 years, clearly besting the market return of around 36% (ignoring dividends). However, more recent returns haven't been as impressive as that, with the stock returning just 39% in the last year , including dividends .
While the efficient markets hypothesis continues to be taught by some, it has been proven that markets are over-reactive dynamic systems, and investors are not always rational. By comparing earnings per share (EPS) and share price changes over time, we can get a feel for how investor attitudes to a company have morphed over time.
During five years of share price growth, Stantec actually saw its EPS drop 3.0% per year.
So it's hard to argue that the earnings per share are the best metric to judge the company, as it may not be optimized for profits at this point. Since the change in EPS doesn't seem to correlate with the change in share price, it's worth taking a look at other metrics.
We doubt the modest 1.1% dividend yield is attracting many buyers to the stock. On the other hand, Stantec's revenue is growing nicely, at a compound rate of 7.4% over the last five years. It's quite possible that management are prioritizing revenue growth over EPS growth at the moment.
The company's revenue and earnings (over time) are depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).
It's probably worth noting we've seen significant insider buying in the last quarter, which we consider a positive. That said, we think earnings and revenue growth trends are even more important factors to consider. So it makes a lot of sense to check out what analysts think Stantec will earn in the future (free profit forecasts).
What About Dividends?
As well as measuring the share price return, investors should also consider the total shareholder return (TSR). Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. It's fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. In the case of Stantec, it has a TSR of 98% for the last 5 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. This is largely a result of its dividend payments!
A Different Perspective
Stantec provided a TSR of 39% over the year (including dividends). That's fairly close to the broader market return. Most would be happy with a gain, and it helps that the year's return is actually better than the average return over five years, which was 15%. It is possible that management foresight will bring growth well into the future, even if the share price slows down. I find it very interesting to look at share price over the long term as a proxy for business performance. But to truly gain insight, we need to consider other information, too. For instance, we've identified 1 warning sign for Stantec that you should be aware of.
Stantec is not the only stock that insiders are buying. For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on CA exchanges.
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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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