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Is Lazard Ltd's (NYSE:LAZ) P/E Ratio Really That Good?

Simply Wall St

This article is written for those who want to get better at using price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll apply a basic P/E ratio analysis to Lazard Ltd's (NYSE:LAZ), to help you decide if the stock is worth further research. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, Lazard has a P/E ratio of 8.78. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 11%.

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How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Lazard:

P/E of 8.78 = $34.85 ÷ $3.97 (Based on the year to March 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that buyers have to pay a higher price for each $1 the company has earned over the last year. That isn't necessarily good or bad, but a high P/E implies relatively high expectations of what a company can achieve in the future.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

When earnings fall, the 'E' decreases, over time. That means unless the share price falls, the P/E will increase in a few years. A higher P/E should indicate the stock is expensive relative to others -- and that may encourage shareholders to sell.

In the last year, Lazard grew EPS like Taylor Swift grew her fan base back in 2010; the 57% gain was both fast and well deserved. The sweetener is that the annual five year growth rate of 16% is also impressive. So I'd be surprised if the P/E ratio was not above average. On the other hand, the longer term performance is poor, with EPS down -16% per year over 3 years.

How Does Lazard's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (32.2) for companies in the capital markets industry is higher than Lazard's P/E.

NYSE:LAZ Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 22nd 2019

This suggests that market participants think Lazard will underperform other companies in its industry. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. 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 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.

How Does Lazard's Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?

Lazard has net debt equal to 40% of its market cap. You'd want to be aware of this fact, but it doesn't bother us.

The Verdict On Lazard's P/E Ratio

Lazard's P/E is 8.8 which is below average (17.7) in the US market. The company does have a little debt, and EPS growth was good last year. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low.

Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. 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 visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.

Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E 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.