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Here's How P/E Ratios Can Help Us Understand Valhi, Inc. (NYSE:VHI)

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 Valhi, Inc.'s (NYSE:VHI) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Based on the last twelve months, Valhi's P/E ratio is 5.95. In other words, at today's prices, investors are paying $5.95 for every $1 in prior year profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Valhi

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Valhi:

P/E of 5.95 = $0.963 ÷ $0.162 (Based on the year to March 2020.)

(Note: the above calculation results may not be precise due to rounding.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

The higher the P/E ratio, the higher the price tag of a business, relative to its trailing 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 Valhi 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. The image below shows that Valhi has a lower P/E than the average (20.7) P/E for companies in the chemicals industry.

NYSE:VHI Price Estimation Relative to Market May 28th 2020

Valhi'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 Valhi, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. 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

P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. If earnings are growing quickly, then the 'E' in the equation will increase faster than it would otherwise. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others -- and that may attract buyers.

Valhi shrunk earnings per share by 72% over the last year. But over the longer term (3 years), earnings per share have increased by 9.7%. And over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have decreased 3.1% annually. This could justify a pessimistic P/E.

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

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. Theoretically, a business can improve its earnings (and produce a lower P/E in the future) by investing in growth. That means taking on debt (or spending its cash).

Spending on growth might be good or bad a few years later, but the point is that the P/E ratio does not account for the option (or lack thereof).

Valhi's Balance Sheet

Net debt totals 91% of Valhi's market cap. This is enough debt that you'd have to make some adjustments before using the P/E ratio to compare it to a company with net cash.

The Verdict On Valhi's P/E Ratio

Valhi trades on a P/E ratio of 5.9, which is below the US market average of 15.6. When you consider that the company has significant debt, and didn't grow EPS last year, it isn't surprising that the market has muted expectations.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If it is underestimating a company, investors can make money by buying and holding the shares until the market corrects itself. We don't have analyst forecasts, but you might want to assess this data-rich visualization of earnings, revenue and cash flow.

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

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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. Thank you for reading.