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Here's What Contact Energy Limited's (NZSE:CEN) P/E Is Telling Us

Simply Wall St

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll apply a basic P/E ratio analysis to Contact Energy Limited's (NZSE:CEN), to help you decide if the stock is worth further research. Contact Energy has a price to earnings ratio of 30.48, based on the last twelve months. In other words, at today's prices, investors are paying NZ$30.48 for every NZ$1 in prior year profit.

View our latest analysis for Contact Energy

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

Price to Earnings Ratio = Share Price ÷ Earnings per Share (EPS)

Or for Contact Energy:

P/E of 30.48 = NZD7.23 ÷ NZD0.24 (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying a higher price for each NZD1 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.

How Does Contact Energy's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (28.3) for companies in the electric utilities industry is lower than Contact Energy's P/E.

NZSE:CEN Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 8th 2020

Its relatively high P/E ratio indicates that Contact Energy shareholders think it will perform better than other companies in its industry classification. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn't guaranteed. So investors should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. That means unless the share price increases, the P/E will reduce in a few years. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.

In the last year, Contact Energy grew EPS like Taylor Swift grew her fan base back in 2010; the 52% gain was both fast and well deserved. Regrettably, the longer term performance is poor, with EPS down 5.8% per year over 5 years.

Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. 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.

How Does Contact Energy's Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?

Contact Energy has net debt worth 20% of its market capitalization. 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 Contact Energy's P/E Ratio

Contact Energy has a P/E of 30.5. That's higher than the average in its market, which is 19.6. While the company does use modest debt, its recent earnings growth is superb. So to be frank we are not surprised it has a high 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.

You might be able to find a better buy than Contact Energy. 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).

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.

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. Thank you for reading.