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A Sliding Share Price Has Us Looking At National Western Life Group, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:NWLI) P/E Ratio

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To the annoyance of some shareholders, National Western Life Group (NASDAQ:NWLI) shares are down a considerable 42% in the last month. That drop has capped off a tough year for shareholders, with the share price down 43% in that time.

All else being equal, a share price drop should make a stock more attractive to potential investors. While the market sentiment towards a stock is very changeable, in the long run, the share price will tend to move in the same direction as earnings per share. 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). Investors have optimistic expectations of companies with higher P/E ratios, compared to companies with lower P/E ratios.

See our latest analysis for National Western Life Group

How Does National Western Life Group's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

National Western Life Group's P/E of 4.35 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. If you look at the image below, you can see National Western Life Group has a lower P/E than the average (8.7) in the insurance industry classification.

NasdaqGS:NWLI Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 17th 2020
NasdaqGS:NWLI Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 17th 2020

National Western Life Group's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with National Western Life Group, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. If you consider the stock interesting, further research is recommended. For example, I often monitor director buying and selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.

It's great to see that National Western Life Group grew EPS by 13% in the last year. And earnings per share have improved by 4.5% annually, over the last five years. This could arguably justify a relatively high P/E ratio.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet

It's important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. 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).

Such expenditure might be good or bad, in the long term, but the point here is that the balance sheet is not reflected by this ratio.

National Western Life Group's Balance Sheet

With net cash of US$254m, National Western Life Group has a very strong balance sheet, which may be important for its business. Having said that, at 44% of its market capitalization the cash hoard would contribute towards a higher P/E ratio.

The Bottom Line On National Western Life Group's P/E Ratio

National Western Life Group has a P/E of 4.4. That's below the average in the US market, which is 12.7. The net cash position gives plenty of options to the business, and the recent improvement in EPS is good to see. The below average P/E ratio suggests that market participants don't believe the strong growth will continue. Given National Western Life Group's P/E ratio has declined from 7.5 to 4.4 in the last month, we know for sure that the market is more worried about the business today, than it was back then. 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.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. If the reality for a company is not as bad as the P/E ratio indicates, then the share price should increase as the market realizes this. Although we don't have analyst forecasts you might want to assess this data-rich visualization 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 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.

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. Thank you for reading.