Unfortunately for some shareholders, the Wabtec (NYSE:WAB) share price has dived 33% in the last thirty days. The recent drop has obliterated the annual return, with the share price now down 26% over that longer period.
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. One way to gauge market expectations of a stock 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 Wabtec Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
We can tell from its P/E ratio of 27.51 that there is some investor optimism about Wabtec. The image below shows that Wabtec has a higher P/E than the average (16.0) P/E for companies in the machinery industry.
That means that the market expects Wabtec will outperform other companies in its industry. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn't guaranteed. So investors should always consider the P/E ratio alongside other factors, such as whether company directors have been buying shares.
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. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.
Wabtec shrunk earnings per share by 38% over the last year. And over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have decreased 12% 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. So it won't reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. 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.
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.
Is Debt Impacting Wabtec's P/E?
Wabtec has net debt equal to 38% of its market cap. You'd want to be aware of this fact, but it doesn't bother us.
The Verdict On Wabtec's P/E Ratio
Wabtec's P/E is 27.5 which is above average (13.3) in its market. With some debt but no EPS growth last year, the market has high expectations of future profits. Given Wabtec's P/E ratio has declined from 41.3 to 27.5 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 prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might be a bad sign, but for a contrarian, it may signal opportunity.
Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. 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.
But note: Wabtec 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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