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Here's What Viacom Inc.'s (NASDAQ:VIAB) P/E Ratio Is Telling Us

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This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll show how you can use Viacom Inc.'s (NASDAQ:VIAB) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Viacom has a price to earnings ratio of 7.79, based on the last twelve months. In other words, at today's prices, investors are paying $7.79 for every $1 in prior year profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Viacom

How Do I Calculate Viacom's Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Viacom:

P/E of 7.79 = $28.44 ÷ $3.65 (Based on the year to December 2018.)

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. 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 Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

If earnings fall then in the future the 'E' will be lower. That means unless the share price falls, the P/E will increase in a few years. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.

Viacom saw earnings per share decrease by 27% last year. And EPS is down 7.0% a year, over the last 5 years. This might lead to muted expectations.

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

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. If you look at the image below, you can see Viacom has a lower P/E than the average (24.1) in the entertainment industry classification.

NasdaqGS:VIAB Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 8th 2019

This suggests that market participants think Viacom will underperform other companies in its industry. Many investors like to buy stocks when the market is pessimistic about their prospects. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

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

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. 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.

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).

So What Does Viacom's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

Viacom has net debt worth 72% of its market capitalization. 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 Viacom's P/E Ratio

Viacom has a P/E of 7.8. That's below the average in the US market, which is 18.2. Given meaningful debt, and a lack of recent growth, the market looks to be extrapolating this recent performance; reflecting low expectations for the future.

Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. 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 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.