It might seem bad, but the worst that can happen when you buy a stock (without leverage) is that its share price goes to zero. But in contrast you can make much more than 100% if the company does well. For example, the Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE:NSC) share price has soared 124% in the last three years. That sort of return is as solid as granite. It’s also good to see the share price up 13% over the last quarter.
To paraphrase Benjamin Graham: Over the short term the market is a voting machine, but over the long term it’s a weighing machine. One flawed but reasonable way to assess how sentiment around a company has changed is to compare the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price.
During three years of share price growth, Norfolk Southern achieved compound earnings per share growth of 23% per year. This EPS growth is lower than the 31% average annual increase in the share price. This suggests that, as the business progressed over the last few years, it gained the confidence of market participants. It is quite common to see investors become enamoured with a business, after a few years of solid progress.
The image below shows how EPS has tracked over time (if you click on the image you can see greater detail).
Before buying or selling a stock, we always recommend a close examination of historic growth trends, available here..
What About Dividends?
When looking at investment returns, it is important to consider the difference between total shareholder return (TSR) and share price return. The TSR is a return calculation that accounts for the value of cash dividends (assuming that any dividend received was reinvested) and the calculated value of any discounted capital raisings. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. We note that for Norfolk Southern the TSR over the last 3 years was 139%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. This is largely a result of its dividend payments!
A Different Perspective
We’re pleased to report that Norfolk Southern shareholders have received a total shareholder return of 24% over one year. That’s including the dividend. Since the one-year TSR is better than the five-year TSR (the latter coming in at 16% per year), it would seem that the stock’s performance has improved in recent times. Someone with an optimistic perspective could view the recent improvement in TSR as indicating that the business itself is getting better with time. Before spending more time on Norfolk Southern it might be wise to click here to see if insiders have been buying or selling shares.
If you would prefer to check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of companies that have proven they can grow earnings.
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.
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 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. Thank you for reading.