P/E Ratio: Using The P/E Ratio
  1. P/E Ratio: An In-Depth Guide
  2. P/E Ratio: What Is It?
  3. P/E Ratio: Using The P/E Ratio
  4. P/E Ratio: Problems With The P/E
  5. P/E Ratio: It's Not A Crystal Ball
  6. P/E Ratio: Conclusion

P/E Ratio: Using The P/E Ratio

Theoretically, a stock's P/E tells us how much investors are willing to pay per dollar of earnings. For this reason it's also called the "multiple" of a stock. In other words, a P/E ratio of 20 suggests that investors in the stock are willing to pay $20 for every $1 of earnings that the company generates. However, this is a far too simplistic way of viewing the P/E because it fails to take into account the company's growth prospects.

Growth of Earnings
Although the EPS figure in the P/E is usually based on earnings from the last four quarters, the P/E is more than a measure of a company's past performance. It also takes into account market expectations for a company's growth. Remember, stock prices reflect what investors think a company will be worth. Future growth is already accounted for in the stock price. As a result, a better way of interpreting the P/E ratio is as a reflection of the market's optimism concerning a company's growth prospects.

If a company has a P/E higher than the market or industry average, this means that the market is expecting big things over the next few months or years. A company with a high P/E ratio will eventually have to live up to the high rating by substantially increasing its earnings, or the stock price will need to drop.

A good example is Microsoft. Several years ago, when it was growing by leaps and bounds, and its P/E ratio was over 100. Today, Microsoft is one of the largest companies in the world, so its revenues and earnings can't maintain the same growth as before. As a result, its P/E had dropped to 43 by June 2002. This reduction in the P/E ratio is a common occurrence as high-growth startups solidify their reputations and turn into blue chips.

Cheap or Expensive?
The P/E ratio is a much better indicator of the value of a stock than the market price alone. For example, all things being equal, a $10 stock with a P/E of 75 is much more "expensive" than a $100 stock with a P/E of 20. That being said, there are limits to this form of analysis - you can't just compare the P/Es of two different companies to determine which is a better value.

It's difficult to determine whether a particular P/E is high or low without taking into account two main factors:

1. Company growth rates
- How fast has the company been growing in the past, and are these rates expected to increase, or at least continue, in the future? Something isn't right if a company has only grown at 5% in the past and still has a stratospheric P/E. If projected growth rates don't justify the P/E, then a stock might be overpriced. In this situation, all you have to do is calculate the P/E using projected EPS.

2. Industry - It is only useful to compare companies if they are in the same industry. For example, utilities typically have low multiples because they are low growth, stable industries. In contrast, the technology industry is characterized by phenomenal growth rates and constant change. Comparing a tech company to a utility is useless. You should only compare high-growth companies to others in the same industry, or to the industry average. You can find P/E ratios by industry on Yahoo! Finance.

P/E Ratio: Problems With The P/E

  1. P/E Ratio: An In-Depth Guide
  2. P/E Ratio: What Is It?
  3. P/E Ratio: Using The P/E Ratio
  4. P/E Ratio: Problems With The P/E
  5. P/E Ratio: It's Not A Crystal Ball
  6. P/E Ratio: Conclusion
  1. Percentage Change

    Percentage change is a simple mathematical concept that represents ...
  2. Markdown

    The difference between the highest current bid price among dealers ...
  3. Catalyst

    A catalyst in equity markets is a revelation or event that propels ...
  4. Investing

    The act of committing money or capital to an endeavor with the ...
  5. Qualitative Analysis

    Securities analysis that uses subjective judgment based on nonquantifiable ...
  6. Profit and Loss Statement (P&L)

    A financial statement that summarizes the revenues, costs and ...
  1. How do I use the PEG (price to earnings growth) ratio to determine whether a stock ...

    The PEG ratio, or price/earnings to growth ratio, is a good tool for determining stock valuation when you need to make a ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Is book value a better metric for company worth than the PE ratio?

    Book value can be a better metric than the P/E, or price to earnings, ratio in certain circumstances, but a company’s true ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. What does low working capital say about a company's financial prospects?

    When a company has low working capital, it can mean one of two things. In most cases, low working capital means the business ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Do nonprofit organizations have working capital?

    Nonprofit organizations continuously face debate over how much money they bring in that is kept in reserve. These financial ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Can a company's working capital turnover ratio be negative?

    A company's working capital turnover ratio can be negative when a company's current liabilities exceed its current assets. ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Does working capital measure liquidity?

    Working capital is a commonly used metric, not only for a company’s liquidity but also for its operational efficiency and ... Read Full Answer >>

You May Also Like

Hot Definitions
  1. Bar Chart

    A style of chart used by some technical analysts, on which, as illustrated below, the top of the vertical line indicates ...
  2. Bullish Engulfing Pattern

    A chart pattern that forms when a small black candlestick is followed by a large white candlestick that completely eclipses ...
  3. Cyber Monday

    An expression used in online retailing to describe the Monday following U.S. Thanksgiving weekend. Cyber Monday is generally ...
  4. Take A Bath

    A slang term referring to the situation of an investor who has experienced a large loss from an investment or speculative ...
  5. Black Friday

    1. A day of stock market catastrophe. Originally, September 24, 1869, was deemed Black Friday. The crash was sparked by gold ...
Trading Center