U.S. Markets open in 2 hrs 15 mins

Should You Be Tempted To Sell LHC Group, Inc. (NASDAQ:LHCG) Because Of Its P/E Ratio?

Simply Wall St

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). To keep it practical, we'll show how LHC Group, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:LHCG) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Based on the last twelve months, LHC Group's P/E ratio is 45.05. In other words, at today's prices, investors are paying $45.05 for every $1 in prior year profit.

View our latest analysis for LHC Group

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

Price to Earnings Ratio = Share Price ÷ Earnings per Share (EPS)

Or for LHC Group:

P/E of 45.05 = $137.76 ÷ $3.06 (Based on the year to September 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio implies that investors pay a higher price for the earning power of the business. All else being equal, it's better to pay a low price -- but as Warren Buffett said, 'It's far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price'.

Does LHC Group Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (22.2) for companies in the healthcare industry is lower than LHC Group's P/E.

NasdaqGS:LHCG Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 2nd 2020

That means that the market expects LHC Group will outperform other companies in its industry. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. So investors should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. And in that case, the P/E ratio itself will drop rather quickly. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.

It's great to see that LHC Group grew EPS by 21% in the last year. And its annual EPS growth rate over 5 years is 20%. This could arguably justify a relatively high P/E ratio.

A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. So it won't reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

While growth expenditure doesn't always pay off, the point is that it is a good option to have; but one that the P/E ratio ignores.

LHC Group's Balance Sheet

Net debt totals just 4.7% of LHC Group's market cap. So it doesn't have as many options as it would with net cash, but its debt would not have much of an impact on its P/E ratio.

The Verdict On LHC Group's P/E Ratio

LHC Group trades on a P/E ratio of 45.0, which is above its market average of 18.9. While the company does use modest debt, its recent earnings growth is very good. Therefore, it's not particularly surprising that it has a above average P/E ratio.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. People often underestimate remarkable growth -- so investors can make money when fast growth is not fully appreciated. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than LHC Group. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.