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A Rising Share Price Has Us Looking Closely At Office Depot, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:ODP) P/E Ratio

Simply Wall St

Those holding Office Depot (NASDAQ:ODP) shares must be pleased that the share price has rebounded 30% in the last thirty days. But unfortunately, the stock is still down by 19% over a quarter. But shareholders may not all be feeling jubilant, since the share price is still down 48% in the last year.

All else being equal, a sharp share price increase should make a stock less attractive to potential investors. In the long term, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, but in the short term prices bounce around in response to short term factors (which are not always obvious). So some would prefer to hold off buying when there is a lot of optimism towards a stock. Perhaps the simplest way to get a read on investors' expectations of a business is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E ratio means that investors have a high expectation about future growth, while a low P/E ratio means they have low expectations about future growth.

See our latest analysis for Office Depot

How Does Office Depot's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

We can tell from its P/E ratio of 29.47 that there is some investor optimism about Office Depot. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (15.3) for companies in the specialty retail industry is lower than Office Depot's P/E.

NasdaqGS:ODP Price Estimation Relative to Market, September 28th 2019

Office Depot'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 further research is always essential. I often monitor director buying and selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

When earnings fall, the 'E' decreases, over time. That means even if the current P/E is low, it will increase over time if the share price stays flat. Then, a higher P/E might scare off shareholders, pushing the share price down.

Office Depot saw earnings per share decrease by 70% last year. And over the longer term (3 years) earnings per share have decreased 56% annually. This could justify a low P/E.

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

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. 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).

While growth expenditure doesn't always pay off, the point is that it is a good option to have; but one that the P/E ratio ignores.

Is Debt Impacting Office Depot's P/E?

Office Depot's net debt is considerable, at 103% of its 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 Office Depot's P/E Ratio

Office Depot's P/E is 29.5 which is above average (17.8) in its market. With relatively high debt, and no earnings per share growth over twelve months, it's safe to say the market believes the company will improve its earnings growth in the future. What is very clear is that the market has become significantly more optimistic about Office Depot over the last month, with the P/E ratio rising from 22.6 back then to 29.5 today. For those who prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might mean it's time to put the stock on a watchlist, or research it. But the contrarian may see it as a missed opportunity.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. 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 report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.

But note: Office Depot 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.