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Shareholders Of Unitil (NYSE:UTL) Must Be Happy With Their 43% Return

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If you buy and hold a stock for many years, you'd hope to be making a profit. But more than that, you probably want to see it rise more than the market average. But Unitil Corporation (NYSE:UTL) has fallen short of that second goal, with a share price rise of 23% over five years, which is below the market return. Zooming in, the stock is up a respectable 19% in the last year.

View our latest analysis for Unitil

To quote Buffett, 'Ships will sail around the world but the Flat Earth Society will flourish. There will continue to be wide discrepancies between price and value in the marketplace...' 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 five years of share price growth, Unitil achieved compound earnings per share (EPS) growth of 7.2% per year. This EPS growth is higher than the 4% average annual increase in the share price. So it seems the market isn't so enthusiastic about the stock these days.

The company's earnings per share (over time) is depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).

earnings-per-share-growth
earnings-per-share-growth

Dive deeper into Unitil's key metrics by checking this interactive graph of Unitil's earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What About Dividends?

It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. It's fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. We note that for Unitil the TSR over the last 5 years was 43%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!

A Different Perspective

Unitil provided a TSR of 24% over the last twelve months. But that was short of the market average. The silver lining is that the gain was actually better than the average annual return of 7% per year over five year. This suggests the company might be improving over time. I find it very interesting to look at share price over the long term as a proxy for business performance. But to truly gain insight, we need to consider other information, too. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Unitil you should be aware of.

But note: Unitil may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with past earnings growth (and further growth forecast).

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.

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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.