A:

The short answer? No. The long answer? It depends.

The price-to-earnings ratio (P/E ratio) is calculated as a stock's current share price divided by its earnings per share (EPS) for a twelve-month period (usually the last 12 months, or trailing twelve months (TTM)). Most of the P/E ratios you see for publicly-traded stocks are an expression of the stock's current price compared against its previous twelve months' earnings.

A stock trading at $40/share with an EPS (ttm) of $2 would have a P/E of 20 ($40/$2), as would a stock priced at $20/share with an EPS of $1 ($20/$1). These two stocks have the same price-to-earnings valuation - in both cases investors pay $20 for each dollar of earnings.

But, what if a stock earning $1 per share was trading at $40/share? Now we'd have a P/E ratio of 40 instead of 20, which means the investor would be paying $40 to claim a mere $1 of earnings. This seems like a bad deal, but there are several factors which could mitigate this apparent overpricing problem.

First, the company could be expected to grow revenue and earnings much more quickly in the future than companies with a P/E of 20, thus commanding a higher price today for the higher future earnings. Second, suppose the estimated (trailing) earnings of the 40-P/E company are very certain to materialize, whereas the 20-P/E company's future earnings are somewhat uncertain, indicating a higher investment risk. Investors would incur less risk by investing in more certain earnings instead of less certain ones, so the company producing those sure-thing earnings again commands a higher price today.

Secondly, it must also be noted that average P/E ratios tend to vary from industry to industry. Typically, P/E ratios of companies in very stable, mature industries which have more moderate growth potential have lower P/E ratios than companies in relatively young, quick-growing industries with more robust future potential. Thus, when an investor is comparing P/E ratios from two companies as potential investments, it is important to compare companies from the same industry with similar characteristics. Otherwise, if an investor simply purchased stocks with the lowest P/E ratios, they would likely end up with a portfolio full of utilities stocks and similar companies, which would leave them poorly diversified and exposed to more risk than if they had diversified into other industries with higher-than-average P/E ratios. (To read more on P/E ratios, see Understanding The P/E Ratio and Analyze Investments Quickly With Ratios.)

However, this doesn't mean that stocks with high P/E ratios cannot turn out to be good investments. Suppose the same company mentioned earlier with a 40-P/E ratio (stock at $40, earned $1/share last year) was widely expected to earn $4/share in the coming year. This would mean (if the stock price didn't change) the company would have a P/E ratio of only 10 in one year's time ($40/$4), making it appear very inexpensive.

The important thing to remember when looking at P/E ratios as part of your stock analysis is to consider what premium you are paying for a company's earnings today, and determine if the expected growth warrants the premium. Also compare it to its industry peers to see its relative valuation to determine whether the premium is the worth the cost of the investment.

Now that you have an understanding of the P/E ratio in terms of stock valuation, learn how the PEG Ratio can help investors price a company based on its future growth potential in

Move Over P/E, Make Way For The PEG.

RELATED FAQS
  1. When does a growth stock turn into a value opportunity?

    A growth stock turns into a value opportunity when it trades at a reasonable multiple of the company's earnings per share ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. How do I calculate the P/E ratio of a company?

    The price-earnings ratio (P/E ratio) is a valuation measure that compares the level of stock prices to the level of corporate ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Have hedge funds eroded market opportunities?

    Hedge funds have not eroded market opportunities for longer-term investors. Many investors incorrectly assume they cannot ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. How can EV/EBITDA be used in conjunction with the P/E ratio?

    Because they provide different perspectives of analysis, the EV/EBITDA multiple and the P/E ratio can be used together to ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the average return on equity for a company in the retail sector?

    The retail sector includes automotive; building supply; distributors; general; grocery and food; online; and special lines ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. What is the average price-to-earnings ratio in the retail sector?

    According to NYU's Stern School of Business, as of January 2015, using trailing 12-month data, the average price-to-earnings ... Read Full Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 3 Best T. Rowe Price Funds for Value Investors in 2016

    Read analyses of the top three T. Rowe Price value funds open to new investors, and learn about their investment objectives and historical performances.
  2. Stock Analysis

    Performance Review: Emerging Markets Equities in 2015

    Find out why emerging markets struggled in 2015 and why a half-decade long trend of poor returns is proving optimistic growth investors wrong.
  3. Stock Analysis

    The 5 Best Stocks That Pay Monthly Dividends (PSEC, LTC)

    Get the scoop on five of the best stocks that pay regular monthly dividends, offering investors looking for regular income dividend yields of up to 16%.
  4. Fundamental Analysis

    3 Long-Term Investing Strategies With Strong Track Records

    Learn why discipline and a statistically valid investment strategy can help an investor limit losses and beat the market over the long term.
  5. Fundamental Analysis

    5 Must-Have Metrics For Value Investors

    Focusing on certain fundamental metrics is the best way for value investors to cash in gains. Here are the most important metrics to know.
  6. Fundamental Analysis

    5 Basic Financial Ratios And What They Reveal

    Understanding financial ratios can help investors pick strong stocks and build wealth. Here are five to know.
  7. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 3 Best Vanguard Funds for Value Investors in 2016

    Find out which of Vanguard's value funds are the best for building a solid core-satellite value investing strategy for your portfolio.
  8. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    The 5 Best US Small Cap Value Index Mutual Funds

    Find out which index mutual funds do the best at investing in small-cap value stocks for higher potential returns at the lowest cost.
  9. Stock Analysis

    The Biggest Risks of Investing in Johnson & Johnson Stock (JNJ)

    Learn the largest risks to investing in Johnson & Johnson through fundamental analysis and other potential risks. Also discover how JNJ compares to its peers.
  10. Stock Analysis

    The Top 5 Financial Penny Stocks for 2016 (CPSS, ASRV)

    Learn about some of the most promising penny stocks in the financial services sector that investors can consider adding to their portfolio for 2016.
RELATED TERMS
  1. Value Investing

    The strategy of selecting stocks that trade for less than their ...
  2. Discounted Cash Flow (DCF)

    Discounted cash flow (DCF) is a valuation method used to estimate ...
  3. Price-Earnings Ratio - P/E Ratio

    The Price-to-Earnings Ratio or P/E ratio is a ratio for valuing ...
  4. Warren Buffett

    Known as "the Oracle of Omaha", Buffett is Chairman of Berkshire ...
  5. Return On Equity - ROE

    The amount of net income returned as a percentage of shareholders ...
  6. Cash Flow-to-Debt Ratio

    A ratio of a company’s cash flow from operations to its total ...
Hot Definitions
  1. Liquidation Margin

    Liquidation margin refers to the value of all of the equity positions in a margin account. If an investor or trader holds ...
  2. Black Swan

    An event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and that would be extremely difficult ...
  3. Inverted Yield Curve

    An interest rate environment in which long-term debt instruments have a lower yield than short-term debt instruments of the ...
  4. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
  5. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
Trading Center