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Why Century Bancorp, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:CNBK.A) High P/E Ratio Isn't Necessarily A Bad Thing

Simply Wall St

Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We'll show how you can use Century Bancorp, Inc.'s (NASDAQ:CNBK.A) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Based on the last twelve months, Century Bancorp's P/E ratio is 12.88. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 7.8%.

Check out our latest analysis for Century Bancorp

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Century Bancorp:

P/E of 12.88 = USD90.00 ÷ USD6.99 (Based on the trailing twelve months 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 Century Bancorp Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. The image below shows that Century Bancorp has a P/E ratio that is roughly in line with the banks industry average (12.8).

NasdaqGS:CNBK.A Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 15th 2020

Its P/E ratio suggests that Century Bancorp shareholders think that in the future it will perform about the same as other companies in its industry classification. So if Century Bancorp 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

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. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

Notably, Century Bancorp grew EPS by a whopping 48% in the last year. And earnings per share have improved by 13% annually, over the last five years. So we'd generally expect it to have a relatively high P/E ratio.

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

The 'Price' in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. 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.

So What Does Century Bancorp's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

Net debt is 43% of Century Bancorp's market cap. You'd want to be aware of this fact, but it doesn't bother us.

The Verdict On Century Bancorp's P/E Ratio

Century Bancorp trades on a P/E ratio of 12.9, which is below the US market average of 18.9. The company does have a little debt, and EPS growth was good last year. If it continues to grow, then the current low P/E may prove to be unjustified.

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. Although we don't have analyst forecasts you could get a better understanding of its growth by checking out this more detailed historical graph 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.