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Read This Before You Buy SP Plus Corporation (NASDAQ:SP) Because Of Its P/E Ratio

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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 show how you can use SP Plus Corporation's (NASDAQ:SP) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Based on the last twelve months, SP Plus's P/E ratio is 15. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 6.7%.

View our latest analysis for SP Plus

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 SP Plus:

P/E of 15 = $32.42 ÷ $2.16 (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that buyers have to pay a higher price for each $1 the company has earned over the last year. That isn't a good or a bad thing on its own, but a high P/E means that buyers have a higher opinion of the business's prospects, relative to stocks with a lower P/E.

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. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

SP Plus saw earnings per share decrease by 4.9% last year. But EPS is up 23% over the last 5 years.

How Does SP Plus's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. The image below shows that SP Plus has a lower P/E than the average (25.3) P/E for companies in the commercial services industry.

NasdaqGS:SP Price Estimation Relative to Market, June 7th 2019

SP Plus's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same 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.

A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank

The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. 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 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.

Is Debt Impacting SP Plus's P/E?

Net debt totals a substantial 117% of SP Plus's market cap. This level of debt justifies a relatively low P/E, so remain cognizant of the debt, if you're comparing it to other stocks.

The Verdict On SP Plus's P/E Ratio

SP Plus has a P/E of 15. That's below the average in the US market, which is 17.5. When you consider that the company has significant debt, and didn't grow EPS last year, it isn't surprising that the market has muted expectations.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. If it is underestimating a company, investors can make money by buying and holding the shares until the market corrects itself. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

But note: SP Plus 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).

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.