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Is Mueller Industries, Inc.'s (NYSE:MLI) P/E Ratio Really That Good?

Simply Wall St

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll look at Mueller Industries, Inc.'s (NYSE:MLI) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. What is Mueller Industries's P/E ratio? Well, based on the last twelve months it is 17.32. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 5.8%.

Check out our latest analysis for Mueller Industries

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Mueller Industries:

P/E of 17.32 = $30.85 ÷ $1.78 (Based on the year to September 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings 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.

Does Mueller Industries 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. If you look at the image below, you can see Mueller Industries has a lower P/E than the average (20.8) in the machinery industry classification.

NYSE:MLI Price Estimation Relative to Market, October 28th 2019

Mueller Industries's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with Mueller Industries, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. 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

Generally speaking the rate of earnings growth has a profound impact on a company's P/E multiple. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. Therefore, even if you pay a high multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become lower in the future. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

Mueller Industries increased earnings per share by an impressive 22% over the last twelve months. And it has improved its earnings per share by 1.3% per year over the last three years. This could arguably justify a relatively high P/E ratio.

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

The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. 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.

Is Debt Impacting Mueller Industries's P/E?

Net debt totals 19% of Mueller Industries's market cap. This could bring some additional risk, and reduce the number of investment options for management; worth remembering if you compare its P/E to businesses without debt.

The Bottom Line On Mueller Industries's P/E Ratio

Mueller Industries's P/E is 17.3 which is about average (17.8) in the US market. With only modest debt levels, and strong earnings growth, the market seems to doubt that the growth can be maintained.

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. We don't have analyst forecasts, but you could get a better understanding of its growth by checking out this more detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Mueller Industries. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.