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Is PRA Health Sciences, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:PRAH) P/E Ratio Really That Good?

Simply Wall St

Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We'll show how you can use PRA Health Sciences, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:PRAH) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Based on the last twelve months, PRA Health Sciences's P/E ratio is 28.02. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $28.02 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

View our latest analysis for PRA Health Sciences

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for PRA Health Sciences:

P/E of 28.02 = $103.29 ÷ $3.69 (Based on the year to September 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio implies that investors pay a higher price for the earning power of the business. 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.

How Does PRA Health Sciences's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. If you look at the image below, you can see PRA Health Sciences has a lower P/E than the average (33.5) in the life sciences industry classification.

NasdaqGS:PRAH Price Estimation Relative to Market, November 5th 2019

This suggests that market participants think PRA Health Sciences will underperform other companies in its industry. Many investors like to buy stocks when the market is pessimistic about their prospects. 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. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. 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.

PRA Health Sciences's earnings made like a rocket, taking off 254% last year. Even better, EPS is up 39% per year over three years. So you might say it really deserves to have an above-average P/E ratio.

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

It's important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. 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 PRA Health Sciences's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

PRA Health Sciences's net debt is 19% of its market cap. That's enough debt to impact the P/E ratio a little; so keep it in mind if you're comparing it to companies without debt.

The Verdict On PRA Health Sciences's P/E Ratio

PRA Health Sciences has a P/E of 28.0. That's higher than the average in its market, which is 18.2. The company is not overly constrained by its modest debt levels, and its recent EPS growth is nothing short of stand-out. So to be frank we are not surprised it has a high P/E ratio.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. 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.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than PRA Health Sciences. 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.