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Luna Innovations (NASDAQ:LUNA) shareholders are no doubt pleased to see that the share price has bounced 39% in the last month alone, although it is still down 20% over the last quarter. Looking back a bit further, we're also happy to report the stock is up 61% in the last year.
Assuming no other changes, a sharply higher share price makes a stock less attractive to potential buyers. In the long term, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, but in the short term prices bounce around in response to short term factors (which are not always obvious). The implication here is that deep value investors might steer clear when expectations of a company are too high. Perhaps the simplest way to get a read on investors' expectations of a business is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E ratio means that investors have a high expectation about future growth, while a low P/E ratio means they have low expectations about future growth.
How Does Luna Innovations's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?
We can tell from its P/E ratio of 38.75 that there is some investor optimism about Luna Innovations. As you can see below, Luna Innovations has a higher P/E than the average company (16.7) in the electronic industry.
Luna Innovations's P/E tells us that market participants think the company will perform better than its industry peers, going forward. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. So further research is always essential. I often monitor director buying and selling.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. That means unless the share price increases, the P/E will reduce in a few years. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.
Luna Innovations's 396% EPS improvement over the last year was like bamboo growth after rain; rapid and impressive.
A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank
The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. Theoretically, a business can improve its earnings (and produce a lower P/E in the future) by investing in growth. That means taking on debt (or spending its cash).
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.
So What Does Luna Innovations's Balance Sheet Tell Us?
Luna Innovations has net cash of US$25m. This is fairly high at 12% of its market capitalization. That might mean balance sheet strength is important to the business, but should also help push the P/E a bit higher than it would otherwise be.
The Bottom Line On Luna Innovations's P/E Ratio
Luna Innovations trades on a P/E ratio of 38.7, which is above its market average of 13.7. The excess cash it carries is the gravy on top its fast EPS growth. So based on this analysis we'd expect Luna Innovations to have a high P/E ratio. What we know for sure is that investors have become much more excited about Luna Innovations recently, since they have pushed its P/E ratio from 27.9 to 38.7 over the last month. If you like to buy stocks that have recently impressed the market, then this one might be a candidate; but if you prefer to invest when there is 'blood in the streets', then you may feel the opportunity has passed.
Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. If the reality for a company is better than it expects, you can make money by buying and holding for the long term. 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.
You might be able to find a better buy than Luna Innovations. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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. Thank you for reading.