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Here's How P/E Ratios Can Help Us Understand Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (NYSE:TMO)

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The goal of this article is to teach you how to use price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll look at Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.'s (NYSE:TMO) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, Thermo Fisher Scientific has a P/E ratio of 36.8. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 2.7%.

Check out our latest analysis for Thermo Fisher Scientific

How Do You Calculate Thermo Fisher Scientific's P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Thermo Fisher Scientific:

P/E of 36.8 = $290.94 ÷ $7.91 (Based on the trailing twelve months 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. All else being equal, it's better to pay a low price -- but as Warren Buffett said, 'It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.'

Does Thermo Fisher Scientific Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. As you can see below Thermo Fisher Scientific has a P/E ratio that is fairly close for the average for the life sciences industry, which is 39.4.

NYSE:TMO Price Estimation Relative to Market, July 15th 2019

That indicates that the market expects Thermo Fisher Scientific will perform roughly in line with other companies in its industry. So if Thermo Fisher Scientific actually outperforms its peers going forward, that should be a positive for the share price. Checking factors such as director buying and selling. could help you form your own view on if that will happen.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. 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.

It's nice to see that Thermo Fisher Scientific grew EPS by a stonking 39% in the last year. And earnings per share have improved by 15% annually, over the last five years. With that performance, I would expect it to have an above average P/E ratio.

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

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. 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.

How Does Thermo Fisher Scientific's Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?

Thermo Fisher Scientific's net debt is 15% of its market cap. 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 Bottom Line On Thermo Fisher Scientific's P/E Ratio

Thermo Fisher Scientific has a P/E of 36.8. That's higher than the average in its market, which is 18. While the company does use modest debt, its recent earnings growth is superb. So on this analysis a high P/E ratio seems reasonable.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. 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.

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.