To the annoyance of some shareholders, ICC Holdings (NASDAQ:ICCH) shares are down a considerable in the last month. Zooming out, the recent drop wiped out a year's worth of gains, with the share price now back where it was a year ago.
Assuming no other changes, a sharply higher share price makes a stock less attractive to potential buyers. While the market sentiment towards a stock is very changeable, in the long run, the share price will tend to move in the same direction as earnings per share. 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). A high P/E implies that investors have high expectations of what a company can achieve compared to a company with a low P/E ratio.
Does ICC Holdings Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
ICC Holdings's P/E of 30.43 indicates some degree of optimism towards the stock. The image below shows that ICC Holdings has a higher P/E than the average (16.4) P/E for companies in the insurance industry.
ICC Holdings's P/E tells us that market participants think the company will perform better than its industry peers, going forward. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. So investors should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
Companies that shrink earnings per share quickly will rapidly decrease the 'E' in the equation. That means unless the share price falls, the P/E will increase in a few years. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.
In the last year, ICC Holdings grew EPS like Taylor Swift grew her fan base back in 2010; the 103% gain was both fast and well deserved. Unfortunately, earnings per share are down 14% a year, over 3 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. 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.
Spending on growth might be good or bad a few years later, but the point is that the P/E ratio does not account for the option (or lack thereof).
So What Does ICC Holdings's Balance Sheet Tell Us?
ICC Holdings's net debt is 3.5% of its market cap. The market might award it a higher P/E ratio if it had net cash, but its unlikely this low level of net borrowing is having a big impact on the P/E multiple.
The Verdict On ICC Holdings's P/E Ratio
ICC Holdings's P/E is 30.4 which is above average (18.7) in its market. While the company does use modest debt, its recent earnings growth is superb. So to be frank we are not surprised it has a high P/E ratio. Given ICC Holdings's P/E ratio has declined from 30.4 to 30.4 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.
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. Although we don't have analyst forecasts you could get a better understanding of its growth by checking out this more detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.
But note: ICC Holdings may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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