Quest Diagnostics Incorporated's (NYSE:DGX) price-to-earnings (or "P/E") ratio of 21.5x might make it look like a sell right now compared to the market in the United States, where around half of the companies have P/E ratios below 19x and even P/E's below 10x are quite common. Although, it's not wise to just take the P/E at face value as there may be an explanation why it's lofty.
Recent times have been pleasing for Quest Diagnostics as its earnings have risen in spite of the market's earnings going into reverse. It seems that many are expecting the company to continue defying the broader market adversity, which has increased investors’ willingness to pay up for the stock. You'd really hope so, otherwise you're paying a pretty hefty price for no particular reason.
If you'd like to see what analysts are forecasting going forward, you should check out our free report on Quest Diagnostics.
How Is Quest Diagnostics' Growth Trending?
Quest Diagnostics' P/E ratio would be typical for a company that's expected to deliver solid growth, and importantly, perform better than the market.
If we review the last year of earnings growth, the company posted a worthy increase of 6.7%. EPS has also lifted 10% in aggregate from three years ago, partly thanks to the last 12 months of growth. Accordingly, shareholders would have probably been satisfied with the medium-term rates of earnings growth.
Shifting to the future, estimates from the analysts covering the company suggest earnings should grow by 7.8% each year over the next three years. That's shaping up to be materially lower than the 14% per year growth forecast for the broader market.
In light of this, it's alarming that Quest Diagnostics' P/E sits above the majority of other companies. It seems most investors are hoping for a turnaround in the company's business prospects, but the analyst cohort is not so confident this will happen. Only the boldest would assume these prices are sustainable as this level of earnings growth is likely to weigh heavily on the share price eventually.
The Key Takeaway
While the price-to-earnings ratio shouldn't be the defining factor in whether you buy a stock or not, it's quite a capable barometer of earnings expectations.
Our examination of Quest Diagnostics' analyst forecasts revealed that its inferior earnings outlook isn't impacting its high P/E anywhere near as much as we would have predicted. Right now we are increasingly uncomfortable with the high P/E as the predicted future earnings aren't likely to support such positive sentiment for long. Unless these conditions improve markedly, it's very challenging to accept these prices as being reasonable.
Plus, you should also learn about these 2 warning signs we've spotted with Quest Diagnostics (including 1 which is potentially serious).
You might be able to find a better investment than Quest Diagnostics. If you want a selection of possible candidates, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20x (but have proven they can grow earnings).
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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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