In order to justify the effort of selecting individual stocks, it's worth striving to beat the returns from a market index fund. But even the best stock picker will only win with some selections. So we wouldn't blame long term Ames National Corporation (NASDAQ:ATLO) shareholders for doubting their decision to hold, with the stock down 27% over a half decade. The falls have accelerated recently, with the share price down 11% in the last three months. Of course, this share price action may well have been influenced by the 17% decline in the broader market, throughout the period.
So let's have a look and see if the longer term performance of the company has been in line with the underlying business' progress.
While the efficient markets hypothesis continues to be taught by some, it has been proven that markets are over-reactive dynamic systems, and investors are not always rational. By comparing earnings per share (EPS) and share price changes over time, we can get a feel for how investor attitudes to a company have morphed over time.
During the unfortunate half decade during which the share price slipped, Ames National actually saw its earnings per share (EPS) improve by 8.7% 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 possibly, the market was previously very optimistic, so the stock has disappointed, despite improving EPS.
Due to the lack of correlation between the EPS growth and the falling share price, it's worth taking a look at other metrics to try to understand the share price movement.
We note that the dividend has remained healthy, so that wouldn't really explain the share price drop. While it's not completely obvious why the share price is down, a closer look at the company's history might help explain it.
The image below shows how earnings and revenue have tracked over time (if you click on the image you can see greater detail).
It's good to see that there was some significant insider buying in the last three months. That's a positive. On the other hand, we think the revenue and earnings trends are much more meaningful measures of the business. Before buying or selling a stock, we always recommend a close examination of historic growth trends, available here..
What About Dividends?
As well as measuring the share price return, investors should also consider the total shareholder return (TSR). Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. It's fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. In the case of Ames National, it has a TSR of -11% for the last 5 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. The dividends paid by the company have thusly boosted the total shareholder return.
A Different Perspective
While it's certainly disappointing to see that Ames National shares lost 5.7% throughout the year, that wasn't as bad as the market loss of 20%. Given the total loss of 2% per year over five years, it seems returns have deteriorated in the last twelve months. While some investors do well specializing in buying companies that are struggling (but nonetheless undervalued), don't forget that Buffett said that 'turnarounds seldom turn'. It is all well and good that insiders have been buying shares, but we suggest you check here to see what price insiders were buying at.
Ames National is not the only stock that insiders are buying. For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.