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Don't Sell Woodside Petroleum Ltd (ASX:WPL) Before You Read This

Simply Wall St

This article is written for those who want to get better at using price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll show how you can use Woodside Petroleum Ltd's (ASX:WPL) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Woodside Petroleum has a price to earnings ratio of 16.77, based on the last twelve months. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 6.0%.

Check out our latest analysis for Woodside Petroleum

How Do You Calculate Woodside Petroleum's P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

Price to Earnings Ratio = Share Price (in reporting currency) ÷ Earnings per Share (EPS)

Or for Woodside Petroleum:

P/E of 16.77 = A$22.28 (Note: this is the share price in the reporting currency, namely, USD ) ÷ A$1.33 (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that buyers have to pay a higher price for each A$1 the company has earned over the last year. 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.

Does Woodside Petroleum 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. As you can see below, Woodside Petroleum has a higher P/E than the average company (9.0) in the oil and gas industry.

ASX:WPL Price Estimation Relative to Market, October 28th 2019

Its relatively high P/E ratio indicates that Woodside Petroleum shareholders think it will perform better than other companies in its industry classification. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn't guaranteed. So further research is always essential. I often monitor director buying and selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Generally speaking the rate of earnings growth has a profound impact on a company's P/E multiple. 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.

Woodside Petroleum's earnings per share grew by -7.2% in the last twelve months. But earnings per share are down 11% per year over the last five years.

A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank

The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

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.

Is Debt Impacting Woodside Petroleum's P/E?

Woodside Petroleum has net debt worth 12% of its market capitalization. This could bring some additional risk, and reduce the number of investment options for management; worth remembering if you compare its P/E to businesses without debt.

The Verdict On Woodside Petroleum's P/E Ratio

Woodside Petroleum has a P/E of 16.8. That's below the average in the AU market, which is 18.5. The company does have a little debt, and EPS is moving in the right direction. If you believe growth will continue - or even increase - then the low P/E may signify opportunity.

Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. 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 Woodside Petroleum. 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).

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.