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For many investors, the main point of stock picking is to generate higher returns than the overall market. But in any portfolio, there are likely to be some stocks that fall short of that benchmark. Unfortunately, that's been the case for longer term AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) shareholders, since the share price is down 18% in the last three years, falling well short of the market return of around 41%. Unhappily, the share price slid 1.5% in the last week.
To quote Buffett, 'Ships will sail around the world but the Flat Earth Society will flourish. There will continue to be wide discrepancies between price and value in the marketplace...' One imperfect but simple way to consider how the market perception of a company has shifted is to compare the change in the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price movement.
During the unfortunate three years of share price decline, AT&T actually saw its earnings per share (EPS) improve by 4.0% per year. 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. After considering the numbers, we'd posit that the the market had higher expectations of EPS growth, three years back. Looking to other metrics might better explain the share price change.
Given the healthiness of the dividend payments, we doubt that they've concerned the market. AT&T has maintained its top line over three years, so we doubt that has shareholders worried. A closer look at revenue and profit trends might yield insights.
The graphic below shows how revenue and earnings have changed as management guided the business forward. If you want to see cashflow, you can click on the chart.
We like that insiders have been buying shares in the last twelve months. Having said that, most people consider earnings and revenue growth trends to be a more meaningful guide to the business. You can see what analysts are predicting for AT&T in this interactive graph of future profit estimates.
What About Dividends?
When looking at investment returns, it is important to consider the difference between total shareholder return (TSR) and share price return. 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. So for companies that pay a generous dividend, the TSR is often a lot higher than the share price return. As it happens, AT&T's TSR for the last 3 years was -4.1%, which exceeds the share price return mentioned earlier. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!
A Different Perspective
It's nice to see that AT&T shareholders have received a total shareholder return of 5.1% over the last year. And that does include the dividend. That's better than the annualised return of 3.5% over half a decade, implying that the company is doing better recently. Given the share price momentum remains strong, it might be worth taking a closer look at the stock, lest you miss an opportunity. If you want to research this stock further, the data on insider buying is an obvious place to start. You can click here to see who has been buying shares - and the price they paid.
If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.
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 email@example.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.