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With a price-to-earnings (or "P/E") ratio of 46.1x General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) may be sending very bearish signals at the moment, given that almost half of all companies in the United States have P/E ratios under 18x and even P/E's lower than 10x are not unusual. However, the P/E might be quite high for a reason and it requires further investigation to determine if it's justified.
General Electric hasn't been tracking well recently as its declining earnings compare poorly to other companies, which have seen some growth on average. One possibility is that the P/E is high because investors think this poor earnings performance will turn the corner. You'd really hope so, otherwise you're paying a pretty hefty price for no particular reason.
If you'd like to see what analysts are forecasting going forward, you should check out our free report on General Electric.
Is There Enough Growth For General Electric?
In order to justify its P/E ratio, General Electric would need to produce outstanding growth well in excess of the market.
If we review the last year of earnings, dishearteningly the company's profits fell to the tune of 21%. At least EPS has managed not to go completely backwards from three years ago in aggregate, thanks to the earlier period of growth. Therefore, it's fair to say that earnings growth has been inconsistent recently for the company.
Shifting to the future, estimates from the analysts covering the company suggest earnings should grow by 34% per annum over the next three years. With the market only predicted to deliver 14% per year, the company is positioned for a stronger earnings result.
In light of this, it's understandable that General Electric's P/E sits above the majority of other companies. It seems most investors are expecting this strong future growth and are willing to pay more for the stock.
The Bottom Line On General Electric's P/E
While the price-to-earnings ratio shouldn't be the defining factor in whether you buy a stock or not, it's quite a capable barometer of earnings expectations.
We've established that General Electric maintains its high P/E on the strength of its forecast growth being higher than the wider market, as expected. At this stage investors feel the potential for a deterioration in earnings isn't great enough to justify a lower P/E ratio. It's hard to see the share price falling strongly in the near future under these circumstances.
We don't want to rain on the parade too much, but we did also find 2 warning signs for General Electric (1 makes us a bit uncomfortable!) that you need to be mindful of.
Of course, you might also be able to find a better stock than General Electric. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that sit on P/E's below 20x and have grown earnings strongly.
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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