Unfortunately for some shareholders, the Assured Guaranty (NYSE:AGO) share price has dived 56% in the last thirty days. That drop has capped off a tough year for shareholders, with the share price down 55% in that time.
Assuming nothing else has changed, a lower share price makes a stock more attractive to potential buyers. 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, on certain occasions, long term focussed investors try to take advantage of pessimistic expectations to buy shares at a better price. 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.
How Does Assured Guaranty's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?
Assured Guaranty's P/E of 5.05 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. If you look at the image below, you can see Assured Guaranty has a lower P/E than the average (8.2) in the insurance industry classification.
Its relatively low P/E ratio indicates that Assured Guaranty shareholders think it will struggle to do as well as other companies in its industry classification. Since the market seems unimpressed with Assured Guaranty, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
When earnings fall, the 'E' decreases, over time. Therefore, even if you pay a low multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become higher in the future. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.
Assured Guaranty shrunk earnings per share by 15% over the last year. And EPS is down 8.5% a year, over the last 5 years. This might lead to muted expectations.
Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits
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. The exact same company would hypothetically deserve a higher P/E ratio if it had a strong balance sheet, than if it had a weak one with lots of debt, because a cashed up company can spend on growth.
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.
How Does Assured Guaranty's Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?
Assured Guaranty has net cash of US$202m. This is fairly high at 10% of its market capitalization. That might mean balance sheet strength is important to the business, but should also help push the P/E a bit higher than it would otherwise be.
The Bottom Line On Assured Guaranty's P/E Ratio
Assured Guaranty has a P/E of 5.0. That's below the average in the US market, which is 12.2. Falling earnings per share are likely to be keeping potential buyers away, the healthy balance sheet means the company retains potential for future growth. If that occurs, the current low P/E could prove to be temporary. What can be absolutely certain is that the market has become more pessimistic about Assured Guaranty over the last month, with the P/E ratio falling from 11.4 back then to 5.0 today. For those who prefer invest in growth, this stock apparently offers limited promise, but the deep value investors may find the pessimism around this stock enticing.
Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. If it is underestimating a company, investors can make money by buying and holding the shares until the market corrects itself. So this free report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.
But note: Assured Guaranty 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).
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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