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The goal of this article is to teach you how to use price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). To keep it practical, we'll show how Webster Financial Corporation's (NYSE:WBS) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, Webster Financial has a P/E ratio of 11.53. In other words, at today's prices, investors are paying $11.53 for every $1 in prior year profit.
How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?
The formula for P/E is:
Price to Earnings Ratio = Price per Share ÷ Earnings per Share (EPS)
Or for Webster Financial:
P/E of 11.53 = $46.56 ÷ $4.04 (Based on the year to March 2019.)
Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?
A higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying a higher price for each $1 of company earnings. That is not a good or a bad thing per se, but a high P/E does imply buyers are optimistic about the future.
Does Webster Financial 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. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (12.9) for companies in the banks industry is higher than Webster Financial's P/E.
Webster Financial's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with Webster Financial, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. 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
P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. If earnings are growing quickly, then the 'E' in the equation will increase faster than it would otherwise. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. Then, a lower P/E should attract more buyers, pushing the share price up.
Webster Financial increased earnings per share by a whopping 39% last year. And earnings per share have improved by 15% annually, over the last five years. I'd therefore be a little surprised if its P/E ratio was not relatively high.
Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet
One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. The exact same company would hypothetically deserve a higher P/E ratio if it had a strong balance sheet, than if it had a weak one with lots of debt, because a cashed up company can spend on growth.
Such expenditure might be good or bad, in the long term, but the point here is that the balance sheet is not reflected by this ratio.
So What Does Webster Financial's Balance Sheet Tell Us?
Webster Financial has net debt equal to 46% of its market cap. While it's worth keeping this in mind, it isn't a worry.
The Verdict On Webster Financial's P/E Ratio
Webster Financial has a P/E of 11.5. That's below the average in the US market, which is 18. The company does have a little debt, and EPS growth was good last year. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low.
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. 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 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.
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 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. Thank you for reading.