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Does Valero Energy Corporation's (NYSE:VLO) 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 Valero Energy Corporation's (NYSE:VLO) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Valero Energy has a P/E ratio of 12.1, based on the last twelve months. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $12.1 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

See our latest analysis for Valero Energy

How Do I Calculate Valero Energy'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 Valero Energy:

P/E of 12.1 = $88.41 ÷ $7.31 (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings 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

When earnings fall, the 'E' decreases, over time. That means even if the current P/E is low, it will increase over time if the share price stays flat. A higher P/E should indicate the stock is expensive relative to others -- and that may encourage shareholders to sell.

Valero Energy saw earnings per share decrease by 20% last year. But over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have increased by 7.9%. And over the longer term (3 years) earnings per share have decreased 3.1% annually. This might lead to low expectations.

Does Valero Energy Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (12.4) for companies in the oil and gas industry is roughly the same as Valero Energy's P/E.

NYSE:VLO Price Estimation Relative to Market, April 14th 2019

Its P/E ratio suggests that Valero Energy shareholders think that in the future it will perform about the same as other companies in its industry classification. The company could surprise by performing better than average, in the future. Further research into factors such asmanagement tenure, could help you form your own view on whether that is likely.

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

It's important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.

Valero Energy's Balance Sheet

Valero Energy's net debt is 17% of its market cap. That's enough debt to impact the P/E ratio a little; so keep it in mind if you're comparing it to companies without debt.

The Verdict On Valero Energy's P/E Ratio

Valero Energy's P/E is 12.1 which is below average (18.2) in the US market. With only modest debt, it's likely the lack of EPS growth at least partially explains the pessimism implied by the P/E ratio.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, 'In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.' 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.

But note: Valero Energy may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

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.