What Is a Price Multiple?

A price multiple is any ratio that uses the share price of a company in conjunction with some specific per-share financial metric for a snapshot on valuation. The share price is typically divided by a chosen per-share metric to form a ratio. Price multiples enable investors to evaluate the market value of a company's stock in relation to a fundamental metric, such as earnings, cash flow, or book value.

Key Takeaways

  • A price multiple is a ratio that uses a company's share price in combination with a per-share financial metric.
  • Investors and analysts use price multiples to gain insight into a company's valuation as part of the process of reviewing a company for potential investment.
  • Common price multiples include price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios, price-to-sales (P/S) ratios, and price-to-cash flow (P/CF) ratios.

Understanding Price Multiples

A price multiple gives investors an opportunity to make a simple valuation of a company. Price multiples are understood by investors around the world and are accepted as a standard by all interested parties in a stock.

Investors commonly express a price multiple ratio in the following format: Price multiple = share price / per-share metric.

The numerator in the ratio is the share price, which is the price a single share of a company's stock sells for at a specific time. A company's share price is easily determined simply by looking at a price chart for the company's stock.

The denominator is the per-share metric used for the specific price multiple calculation. The metric measures some aspect of a company's performance. Investors can calculate these metrics by using data from a company's financial statement or by finding the metrics as part of a company's historical data on a brokerage site.

Types of Price Multiples

Ratio analysis helps investors determine the financial health of a company by evaluating how a company is performing over time. Price multiples reveal insights to investors that assist them in comparing different companies as potential investment opportunities. Some common price multiples are the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, price-to-forward earnings (forward P/E), price-to-book (P/B) ratio, and price-to-sales (P/S) ratio.

Investors and analysts use some ratios to predict earnings and future performance. Other ratios include price-to-tangible book (P/TBV), price-to-cash flow (P/CF), price-to-EBITDA (P/EBITDA), and price-to-free cash flow (P/FCF). These price multiples are easy to compute on the surface, but investors must take care to analyze the components of the denominator to make sure the numbers are accurate.

When using a price multiple to evaluate a company's performance, investors should ensure there are no extraordinary items, one-offs, or non-recurring factors that may distort the financial metric.

Benefits of Price Multiples

Price multiples serve an important purpose in providing a static and forward glance at a stock's valuation. The multiples are used to compare present and future (forecasted) valuation multiples of a company with its historical figures and with those of its peers.

Price multiples can assist investors in determining if a stock is overvalued, undervalued, or fairly valued. These ratios appeal to investors because they are generally easy to understand and use. Price multiples help investors figure out what a share buys in terms of a measure of value, such as cash flow or earnings.

Special Considerations

Investors should use only the price multiples that are relevant to a given industry. A P/E ratio would be an appropriate valuation measure for a technology firm, but not necessarily for a capital-intensive utility company that charges a significant amount of depreciation to earnings. In this case, the non-cash charge will lower generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) earnings and thus reduce earnings per share (EPS), which may lead to a false impression about the company's valuation. Sometimes P/E is thrown out the window.

For example, non-owners of Amazon stock who have been looking for some reasonable P/E for years may have come to the realization that the P/E multiple, or lack thereof, in Amazon's case has not mattered one iota. It may in the future, but owners of Amazon stock who have ignored this price multiple are clear winners.

Where to Find Price Multiples

Most financial websites display basic price multiples such as P/E, P/B, or P/S. The ratios are typically calculated on a trailing twelve month (TTM) or last calendar period basis. For the more serious investor, hand calculations of multiples that are relevant to a particular industry can be done with data provided by companies in their financial reports.