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Do You Know What Southwestern Energy Company's (NYSE:SWN) P/E Ratio Means?

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This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll apply a basic P/E ratio analysis to Southwestern Energy Company's (NYSE:SWN), to help you decide if the stock is worth further research. What is Southwestern Energy's P/E ratio? Well, based on the last twelve months it is 2.41. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $2.41 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

View our latest analysis for Southwestern Energy

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Southwestern Energy:

P/E of 2.41 = $3.93 ÷ $1.63 (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. That isn't a good or a bad thing on its own, but a high P/E means that buyers have a higher opinion of the business's prospects, relative to stocks with a lower P/E.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

It's great to see that Southwestern Energy grew EPS by 14% in the last year. But earnings per share are down 5.8% per year over the last five years.

Does Southwestern Energy Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. The image below shows that Southwestern Energy has a lower P/E than the average (12.7) P/E for companies in the oil and gas industry.

NYSE:SWN Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 6th 2019

This suggests that market participants think Southwestern Energy will underperform other companies in its industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with Southwestern Energy, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. 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. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

Such expenditure might be good or bad, in the long term, but the point here is that the balance sheet is not reflected by this ratio.

Southwestern Energy's Balance Sheet

Southwestern Energy's net debt is 92% of its market cap. This is a reasonably significant level of debt -- all else being equal you'd expect a much lower P/E than if it had net cash.

The Verdict On Southwestern Energy's P/E Ratio

Southwestern Energy trades on a P/E ratio of 2.4, which is below the US market average of 18.4. The company may have significant debt, but EPS growth was good last year. If it continues to grow, then the current low P/E may prove to be unjustified.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If the reality for a company is not as bad as the P/E ratio indicates, then the share price should increase as the market realizes this. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

But note: Southwestern Energy 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.