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Do You Like NorthWestern Corporation (NYSE:NWE) At This P/E Ratio?

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Simply Wall St
·4 min read
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The goal of this article is to teach you how to use price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll look at NorthWestern Corporation's (NYSE:NWE) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. NorthWestern has a P/E ratio of 19.57, based on the last twelve months. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 5.1%.

See our latest analysis for NorthWestern

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 NorthWestern:

P/E of 19.57 = USD78.45 ÷ USD4.01 (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying a higher price for each USD1 of company earnings. 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.

Does NorthWestern 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 NorthWestern has a lower P/E than the average (21.3) in the integrated utilities industry classification.

NYSE:NWE Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 25th 2020
NYSE:NWE Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 25th 2020

NorthWestern's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same 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. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.

NorthWestern had pretty flat EPS growth in the last year. But EPS is up 5.9% over the last 5 years.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

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 NorthWestern's P/E?

Net debt totals 56% of NorthWestern's market cap. If you want to compare its P/E ratio to other companies, you should absolutely keep in mind it has significant borrowings.

The Verdict On NorthWestern's P/E Ratio

NorthWestern trades on a P/E ratio of 19.6, which is above its market average of 17.7. With significant debt and fairly modest EPS growth last year, shareholders are betting on sustained improvement.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. 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 report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.

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.

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.