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Unfortunately for some shareholders, the US Ecology (NASDAQ:ECOL) share price has dived 34% in the last thirty days. Indeed the recent decline has arguably caused some bitterness for shareholders who have held through the 40% drop over twelve months.
All else being equal, a share price drop should make a stock more attractive to potential investors. 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). The implication here is that long term investors have an opportunity when expectations of a company are too low. 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.
Does US Ecology Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
US Ecology's P/E is 24.06. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (25.2) for companies in the commercial services industry is roughly the same as US Ecology's P/E.
US Ecology's P/E tells us that market participants think its prospects are roughly in line with its industry. So if US Ecology actually outperforms its peers going forward, that should be a positive for the share price. Further research into factors such as insider buying and selling, could help you form your own view on whether that is likely.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
Companies that shrink earnings per share quickly will rapidly decrease the 'E' in the equation. That means unless the share price falls, the P/E will increase in a few years. Then, a higher P/E might scare off shareholders, pushing the share price down.
US Ecology shrunk earnings per share by 38% over the last year. And over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have decreased 4.5% annually. This growth rate might warrant a below average P/E ratio.
Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits
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. 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.
So What Does US Ecology's Balance Sheet Tell Us?
Net debt totals 68% of US Ecology's market cap. If you want to compare its P/E ratio to other companies, you should absolutely keep in mind it has significant borrowings.
The Verdict On US Ecology's P/E Ratio
US Ecology's P/E is 24.1 which is above average (14.7) in its market. With meaningful debt and a lack of recent earnings growth, the market has high expectations that the business will earn more in the future. Given US Ecology's P/E ratio has declined from 36.2 to 24.1 in the last month, we know for sure that the market is significantly less confident about the business today, than it was back then. For those who don't like to trade against momentum, that could be a warning sign, but a contrarian investor might want to take a closer look.
When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, 'In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.
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 email@example.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.