With a price-to-earnings (or "P/E") ratio of 19.1x Union Pacific Corporation (NYSE:UNP) may be sending bearish signals at the moment, given that almost half of all companies in the United States have P/E ratios under 14x and even P/E's lower than 8x are not unusual. However, the P/E might be high for a reason and it requires further investigation to determine if it's justified.
Union Pacific certainly has been doing a good job lately as it's been growing earnings more than most other companies. The P/E is probably high because investors think this strong earnings performance will continue. You'd really hope so, otherwise you're paying a pretty hefty price for no particular reason.
If you'd like to see what analysts are forecasting going forward, you should check out our free report on Union Pacific.
Is There Enough Growth For Union Pacific?
There's an inherent assumption that a company should outperform the market for P/E ratios like Union Pacific's to be considered reasonable.
If we review the last year of earnings growth, the company posted a terrific increase of 20%. As a result, it also grew EPS by 29% in total over the last three years. Therefore, it's fair to say the earnings growth recently has been respectable for the company.
Looking ahead now, EPS is anticipated to climb by 7.3% per annum during the coming three years according to the analysts following the company. With the market predicted to deliver 9.0% growth per year, the company is positioned for a comparable earnings result.
With this information, we find it interesting that Union Pacific is trading at a high P/E compared to the market. Apparently many investors in the company are more bullish than analysts indicate and aren't willing to let go of their stock right now. These shareholders may be setting themselves up for disappointment if the P/E falls to levels more in line with the growth outlook.
The Bottom Line On Union Pacific's P/E
We'd say the price-to-earnings ratio's power isn't primarily as a valuation instrument but rather to gauge current investor sentiment and future expectations.
We've established that Union Pacific currently trades on a higher than expected P/E since its forecast growth is only in line with the wider market. Right now we are uncomfortable with the relatively high share price as the predicted future earnings aren't likely to support such positive sentiment for long. Unless these conditions improve, it's challenging to accept these prices as being reasonable.
It's always necessary to consider the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We've identified 1 warning sign with Union Pacific, and understanding should be part of your investment process.
If these risks are making you reconsider your opinion on Union Pacific, explore our interactive list of high quality stocks to get an idea of what else is out there.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.
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