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To the annoyance of some shareholders, Meta Financial Group (NASDAQ:CASH) shares are down a considerable 50% in the last month. Indeed, the recent drop has reduced the annual gain to a relatively sedate 2.6% over the last twelve months.
Assuming nothing else has changed, a lower share price makes a stock more 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 long term investors have an opportunity when expectations of a company are too low. One way to gauge market expectations of a stock is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E implies that investors have high expectations of what a company can achieve compared to a company with a low P/E ratio.
Does Meta Financial Group Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
We can tell from its P/E ratio of 7.46 that sentiment around Meta Financial Group isn't particularly high. The image below shows that Meta Financial Group has a lower P/E than the average (9.9) P/E for companies in the mortgage industry.
This suggests that market participants think Meta Financial Group 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. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. If earnings are growing quickly, then the 'E' in the equation will increase faster than it would otherwise. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. Then, a lower P/E should attract more buyers, pushing the share price up.
Meta Financial Group increased earnings per share by a whopping 43% last year. And earnings per share have improved by 26% annually, over the last five years. With that performance, I would expect it to have an above average P/E ratio.
Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet
One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. 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.
Meta Financial Group's Balance Sheet
Meta Financial Group's net debt equates to 34% of its market capitalization. While it's worth keeping this in mind, it isn't a worry.
The Bottom Line On Meta Financial Group's P/E Ratio
Meta Financial Group's P/E is 7.5 which is below average (11.5) in the US market. The EPS growth last year was strong, and debt levels are quite reasonable. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low. Given analysts are expecting further growth, one might have expected a higher P/E ratio. That may be worth further research. Given Meta Financial Group's P/E ratio has declined from 14.8 to 7.5 in the last month, we know for sure that the market is more worried about the business today, than it was back then. For those who prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might be a bad sign, but for deep value investors this stock might justify some research.
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.
You might be able to find a better buy than Meta Financial Group. 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.
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