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Investors in St. Joe (NYSE:JOE) have made a strong return of 173% over the past three years

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It might seem bad, but the worst that can happen when you buy a stock (without leverage) is that its share price goes to zero. But in contrast you can make much more than 100% if the company does well. For instance the The St. Joe Company (NYSE:JOE) share price is 171% higher than it was three years ago. Most would be happy with that. Meanwhile the share price is 1.2% higher than it was a week ago.

Let's take a look at the underlying fundamentals over the longer term, and see if they've been consistent with shareholders returns.

View our latest analysis for St. Joe

To paraphrase Benjamin Graham: Over the short term the market is a voting machine, but over the long term it's a weighing machine. 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.

During the three years of share price growth, St. Joe actually saw its earnings per share (EPS) drop 4.6% per year.

Companies are not always focussed on EPS growth in the short term, and looking at how the share price has reacted, we don't think EPS is the most important metric for St. Joe at the moment. So other metrics may hold the key to understanding what is influencing investors.

Languishing at just 0.7%, we doubt the dividend is doing much to prop up the share price. It may well be that St. Joe revenue growth rate of 21% over three years has convinced shareholders to believe in a brighter future. In that case, the company may be sacrificing current earnings per share to drive growth, and maybe shareholder's faith in better days ahead will be rewarded.

The graphic below depicts how earnings and revenue have changed over time (unveil the exact values by clicking on the image).

earnings-and-revenue-growth
earnings-and-revenue-growth

We're pleased to report that the CEO is remunerated more modestly than most CEOs at similarly capitalized companies. It's always worth keeping an eye on CEO pay, but a more important question is whether the company will grow earnings throughout the years. Before buying or selling a stock, we always recommend a close examination of historic growth trends, available here..

What About Dividends?

When looking at investment returns, it is important to consider the difference between total shareholder return (TSR) and share price return. 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. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. In the case of St. Joe, it has a TSR of 173% 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

It's nice to see that St. Joe shareholders have received a total shareholder return of 76% over the last year. That's including the dividend. That's better than the annualised return of 19% over half a decade, implying that the company is doing better recently. Someone with an optimistic perspective could view the recent improvement in TSR as indicating that the business itself is getting better with time. I find it very interesting to look at share price over the long term as a proxy for business performance. But to truly gain insight, we need to consider other information, too. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for St. Joe that you should be aware of before investing here.

Of course St. Joe may not be the best stock to buy. So you may wish to see this free collection of growth stocks.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.

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.

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