Azure Healthcare (ASX:AZV) shareholders are no doubt pleased to see that the share price has had a great month, posting a 35% gain, recovering from prior weakness. The full year gain of 31% is pretty reasonable, too.
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). 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). Investors have optimistic expectations of companies with higher P/E ratios, compared to companies with lower P/E ratios.
How Does Azure Healthcare's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?
Azure Healthcare's P/E is 33.61. The image below shows that Azure Healthcare has a P/E ratio that is roughly in line with the medical equipment industry average (34.6).
Azure Healthcare's P/E tells us that market participants think its prospects are roughly in line with its industry. So if Azure Healthcare actually outperforms its peers going forward, that should be a positive for the share price. Further research into factors such as insider buying and selling, could help you form your own view on whether that is likely.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. 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.
Azure Healthcare saw earnings per share decrease by 47% last year. And EPS is down 33% a year, over the last 5 years. This growth rate might warrant a below average P/E ratio.
A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank
The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.
Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.
Azure Healthcare's Balance Sheet
The extra options and safety that comes with Azure Healthcare's AU$1.7m net cash position means that it deserves a higher P/E than it would if it had a lot of net debt.
The Verdict On Azure Healthcare's P/E Ratio
Azure Healthcare's P/E is 33.6 which is above average (18.9) in its market. The recent drop in earnings per share might keep value investors away, but the net cash position means the company has time to improve: and the high P/E suggests the market thinks it will. What we know for sure is that investors have become much more excited about Azure Healthcare recently, since they have pushed its P/E ratio from 24.8 to 33.6 over the last month. 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.
Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, 'In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine. We don't have analyst forecasts, but shareholders might want to examine this detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.
Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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