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Is The National Security Group, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:NSEC) P/E Ratio Really That Good?

Simply Wall St

Of late the National Security Group (NASDAQ:NSEC) share price has softened like an ice cream in the sun, melting a full . But there's still good reason for shareholders to be content; the stock has gained 41% in the last 90 days. Looking back over the last year, the stock has been a solid performer, with a gain of 22%.

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. One way to gauge market expectations of a stock is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). Investors have optimistic expectations of companies with higher P/E ratios, compared to companies with lower P/E ratios.

View our latest analysis for National Security Group

How Does National Security Group's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

National Security Group's P/E of 31.46 indicates some degree of optimism towards the stock. The image below shows that National Security Group has a higher P/E than the average (16.9) P/E for companies in the insurance industry.

NasdaqGM:NSEC Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 17th 2020
NasdaqGM:NSEC Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 17th 2020

That means that the market expects National Security Group will outperform other companies in its industry. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn't guaranteed. So investors should always consider the P/E ratio alongside other factors, such as whether company directors have been buying shares.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

When earnings fall, the 'E' decreases, over time. That means even if the current P/E is low, it will increase over time if the share price stays flat. A higher P/E should indicate the stock is expensive relative to others -- and that may encourage shareholders to sell.

National Security Group shrunk earnings per share by 51% over the last year. And EPS is down 28% a year, over the last 5 years. This could justify a pessimistic P/E.

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

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. 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 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.

So What Does National Security Group's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

National Security Group's net debt is 14% of its 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 Verdict On National Security Group's P/E Ratio

National Security Group's P/E is 31.5 which is above average (19.1) in its market. With modest debt but no EPS growth in the last year, it's fair to say the P/E implies some optimism about future earnings, from the market. Given National Security Group's P/E ratio has declined from 31.5 to 31.5 in the last month, we know for sure that the market is less confident about the business today, than it was back then. For those who don't like to trade against momentum, that could be a warning sign, but a contrarian investor might want to take a closer look.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. People often underestimate remarkable growth -- so investors can make money when fast growth is not fully appreciated. Although we don't have analyst forecasts shareholders might want to examine this detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.

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

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.

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.