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Should We Worry About Erie Indemnity Company's (NASDAQ:ERIE) P/E Ratio?

Simply Wall St

This article is written for those who want to get better at using price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). To keep it practical, we'll show how Erie Indemnity Company's (NASDAQ:ERIE) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, Erie Indemnity has a P/E ratio of 27.73. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 3.6%.

See our latest analysis for Erie Indemnity

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 Erie Indemnity:

P/E of 27.73 = USD169.49 ÷ USD6.11 (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

Is A High P/E 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'.

How Does Erie Indemnity's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

The P/E ratio essentially measures market expectations of a company. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (17.0) for companies in the insurance industry is lower than Erie Indemnity's P/E.

NasdaqGS:ERIE Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 18th 2020

That means that the market expects Erie Indemnity will outperform other companies in its industry. The market is optimistic about the future, but that doesn't guarantee future growth. So investors should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Generally speaking the rate of earnings growth has a profound impact on a company's P/E multiple. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. 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 Erie Indemnity grew EPS by 24% in the last year. And its annual EPS growth rate over 5 years is 12%. With that performance, you might expect an above average P/E ratio.

Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. That means it doesn't take debt or cash into account. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in 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 Erie Indemnity's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

Since Erie Indemnity holds net cash of US$280m, it can spend on growth, justifying a higher P/E ratio than otherwise.

The Bottom Line On Erie Indemnity's P/E Ratio

Erie Indemnity trades on a P/E ratio of 27.7, which is above its market average of 19.0. Its strong balance sheet gives the company plenty of resources for extra growth, and it has already proven it can grow. So it is not surprising the market is probably extrapolating recent growth well into the future, reflected in the relatively high P/E ratio.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. If the reality for a company is better than it expects, you can make money by buying and holding for the long term. So this free visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Erie Indemnity. 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.