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Do You Know What Barrett Business Services, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:BBSI) P/E Ratio Means?

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Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We'll look at Barrett Business Services, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:BBSI) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. What is Barrett Business Services's P/E ratio? Well, based on the last twelve months it is 12.47. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 8.0%.

View our latest analysis for Barrett Business Services

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Barrett Business Services:

P/E of 12.47 = $75.99 ÷ $6.09 (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying a higher price for each $1 of company earnings. All else being equal, it's better to pay a low price -- but as Warren Buffett said, 'It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price.'

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. And in that case, the P/E ratio itself will drop rather quickly. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

Barrett Business Services's earnings made like a rocket, taking off 63% last year. The cherry on top is that the five year growth rate was an impressive 21% per year. So I'd be surprised if the P/E ratio was not above average.

How Does Barrett Business Services's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. The image below shows that Barrett Business Services has a lower P/E than the average (22.3) P/E for companies in the professional services industry.

NasdaqGS:BBSI Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 9th 2019

Its relatively low P/E ratio indicates that Barrett Business Services shareholders think it will struggle to do as well as other companies in its industry classification. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. If you consider the stock interesting, further research is recommended. For example, I often monitor director buying and selling.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. 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.

Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.

Barrett Business Services's Balance Sheet

The extra options and safety that comes with Barrett Business Services's US$9.4m net cash position means that it deserves a higher P/E than it would if it had a lot of net debt.

The Bottom Line On Barrett Business Services's P/E Ratio

Barrett Business Services's P/E is 12.5 which is below average (18.1) in the US market. The net cash position gives plenty of options to the business, and the recent improvement in EPS is good to see. The below average P/E ratio suggests that market participants don't believe the strong growth will continue.

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 visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.

But note: Barrett Business Services may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio 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.