Mears Group plc (LON:MER) shareholders should be happy to see the share price up 16% in the last quarter. But that doesn't change the fact that the returns over the last three years have been less than pleasing. In fact, the share price is down 36% in the last three years, falling well short of the market return.
There is no denying that markets are sometimes efficient, but prices do not always reflect underlying business performance. One flawed but reasonable way to assess how sentiment around a company has changed is to compare the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price.
Although the share price is down over three years, Mears Group actually managed to grow EPS by 4.2% per year in that time. Given the share price reaction, one might suspect that EPS is not a good guide to the business performance during the period (perhaps due to a one-off loss or gain). Or else the company was over-hyped in the past, and so its growth has disappointed.
It's pretty reasonable to suspect the market was previously to bullish on the stock, and has since moderated expectations. But it's possible a look at other metrics will be enlightening.
Given the healthiness of the dividend payments, we doubt that they've concerned the market. Revenue has been pretty flat over three years, so that isn't an obvious reason shareholders would sell. So it might be worth looking at how revenue growth over time, in greater detail.
The image below shows how earnings and revenue have tracked over time (if you click on the image you can see greater detail).
You can see how its balance sheet has strengthened (or weakened) over time in this free interactive graphic.
What About Dividends?
It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. The TSR incorporates the value of any spin-offs or discounted capital raisings, along with any dividends, based on the assumption that the dividends are reinvested. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. In the case of Mears Group, it has a TSR of -29% for the last 3 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!
A Different Perspective
While the broader market gained around 19% in the last year, Mears Group shareholders lost 3.9% (even including dividends) . Even the share prices of good stocks drop sometimes, but we want to see improvements in the fundamental metrics of a business, before getting too interested. Regrettably, last year's performance caps off a bad run, with the shareholders facing a total loss of 3.3% per year over five years. We realise that Buffett has said investors should 'buy when there is blood on the streets', but we caution that investors should first be sure they are buying a high quality business. It's always interesting to track share price performance over the longer term. But to understand Mears Group better, we need to consider many other factors. Be aware that Mears Group is showing 2 warning signs in our investment analysis , you should know about...
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Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on GB exchanges.
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