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Here's How P/E Ratios Can Help Us Understand Robert Half International Inc. (NYSE:RHI)

Simply Wall St

Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We'll show how you can use Robert Half International Inc.'s (NYSE:RHI) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Based on the last twelve months, Robert Half International's P/E ratio is 15.04. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 6.6%.

View our latest analysis for Robert Half International

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Robert Half International:

P/E of 15.04 = $58.60 ÷ $3.90 (Based on the year to September 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 $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.

How Does Robert Half International's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

The P/E ratio essentially measures market expectations of a company. If you look at the image below, you can see Robert Half International has a lower P/E than the average (19.9) in the professional services industry classification.

NYSE:RHI Price Estimation Relative to Market, November 29th 2019

This suggests that market participants think Robert Half International will underperform other companies in its industry. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. 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

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. 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.

It's nice to see that Robert Half International grew EPS by a stonking 29% in the last year. And it has bolstered its earnings per share by 13% per year over the last five years. I'd therefore be a little surprised if its P/E ratio was not relatively high.

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

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. 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.

So What Does Robert Half International's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

The extra options and safety that comes with Robert Half International's US$312m net cash position means that it deserves a higher P/E than it would if it had a lot of net debt.

The Bottom Line On Robert Half International's P/E Ratio

Robert Half International's P/E is 15.0 which is below average (18.3) in the US market. Not only should the net cash position reduce risk, but the recent growth has been impressive. The below average P/E ratio suggests that market participants don't believe the strong growth will continue.

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.

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.

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.