Unfortunately for some shareholders, the United Rentals (NYSE:URI) share price has dived 32% in the last thirty days. Even longer term holders have taken a real hit with the stock declining 21% in the last year.
Assuming nothing else has changed, a lower share price makes a stock more 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, on certain occasions, long term focussed investors try to take advantage of pessimistic expectations to buy shares at a better price. 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.
How Does United Rentals's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?
United Rentals's P/E of 5.94 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (10.9) for companies in the trade distributors industry is higher than United Rentals's P/E.
United Rentals's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. 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.
It's great to see that United Rentals grew EPS by 14% in the last year. And earnings per share have improved by 22% annually, over the last five years. So one might expect an above average P/E ratio.
A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank
It's important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. 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).
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).
United Rentals's Balance Sheet
United Rentals has net debt worth a very significant 168% of its market capitalization. If you want to compare its P/E ratio to other companies, you must keep in mind that these debt levels would usually warrant a relatively low P/E.
The Bottom Line On United Rentals's P/E Ratio
United Rentals has a P/E of 5.9. That's below the average in the US market, which is 13.0. The company has a meaningful amount of debt on the balance sheet, but that should not eclipse the solid earnings growth. The low P/E ratio suggests current market expectations are muted, implying these levels of growth will not continue. What can be absolutely certain is that the market has become more pessimistic about United Rentals over the last month, with the P/E ratio falling from 8.7 back then to 5.9 today. For those who prefer invest in growth, this stock apparently offers limited promise, but the deep value investors may find the pessimism around this stock enticing.
Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. 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.
Of course you might be able to find a better stock than United Rentals. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.
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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