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Here's How P/E Ratios Can Help Us Understand WESCO International, Inc. (NYSE:WCC)

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This article is written for those who want to get better at using price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll look at WESCO International, Inc.'s (NYSE:WCC) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. WESCO International has a price to earnings ratio of 10.89, based on the last twelve months. In other words, at today's prices, investors are paying $10.89 for every $1 in prior year profit.

See our latest analysis for WESCO International

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 WESCO International:

P/E of 10.89 = $53.01 ÷ $4.87 (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2018.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio implies that investors pay a higher price for the earning power of the business. 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.'

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. That means unless the share price increases, the P/E will reduce in a few years. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others -- and that may attract buyers.

WESCO International increased earnings per share by a whopping 42% last year. Unfortunately, earnings per share are down 14% a year, over 5 years.

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

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (13.8) for companies in the trade distributors industry is higher than WESCO International's P/E.

NYSE:WCC Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 31st 2019

WESCO International's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with WESCO International, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. If you consider the stock interesting, further research is recommended. For example, I often monitor director buying and selling.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. Theoretically, a business can improve its earnings (and produce a lower P/E in the future), by taking on debt (or spending its remaining cash).

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 WESCO International's P/E?

Net debt totals 48% of WESCO International's market cap. This is a reasonably significant level of debt -- all else being equal you'd expect a much lower P/E than if it had net cash.

The Verdict On WESCO International's P/E Ratio

WESCO International's P/E is 10.9 which is below average (17.7) in the US market. The EPS growth last year was strong, and debt levels are quite reasonable. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low.

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 visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than WESCO International. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.