Price to Earnings (P/E)

Now that you have several EPS figures (historical and forecasts), you’ll be able to look at the most common valuation technique used by analysts, the price to earnings ratio, or P/E. To compute this figure, take the stock price and divide it by the annual EPS figure. For example, if the stock is trading at $10 and the EPS is $0.50, the P/E is 20 times. To get a good feeling of what P/E multiple a stock trades at, be sure to look at the historical and forward ratios.

Historical P/Es are computed by taking the current price divided by the sum of the EPS for the last four quarters, or for the previous year. You should also look at the historical trends of the P/E by viewing a chart of its historical P/E over the last several years (you can find on most finance sites like Yahoo Finance). Specifically you want to find out what range the P/E has traded in so that you can determine if the current P/E is high or low versus its historical average.

Forward P/Es reflect the future growth of the company into the figure. Forward P/Es are computed by taking the current stock price divided by the sum of the EPS estimates for the next four quarters, or for the EPS estimate for next calendar of fiscal year or two.

P/Es change constantly. If there is a large price change in a stock you are watching, or if the earnings (EPS) estimates change, the ratio is recomputed.

Growth Rate

Valuations rely very heavily on the expected growth rate of a company. One must look at the historical growth rate of both sales and income to get a feeling for the type of future growth expected. However, companies are constantly changing, as well as the economy, so solely using historical growth rates to predict the future is not an acceptable form of valuation. Instead, they are used as guidelines for what future growth could look like if similar circumstances are encountered by the company. Calculating the future growth rate requires personal investment research. This may take form in listening to the company’s quarterly conference call or reading press release or other company article that discusses the company’s growth guidance. However, although companies are in the best position to forecast their own growth, they are far from accurate, and unforeseen events could cause rapid changes in the economy and in the company’s industry.

And for any valuation technique, it’s important to look at a range of forecast values. For example, if the company being valued has been growing earnings between 5 and 10% each year for the last 5 years, but believes that it will grow 15 – 20% this year, a more conservative growth rate of 10 – 15% would be appropriate in valuations. Another example would be for a company that has been going through restructuring. They may have been growing earnings at 10 – 15% over the past several quarters / years because of cost cutting, but their sales growth could be only 0 – 5%. This would signal that their earnings growth will probably slow when the cost cutting has fully taken effect. Therefore, forecasting an earnings growth closer to the 0 – 5% rate would be more appropriate rather than the 15 – 20%. Nonetheless, the growth rate method of valuations relies heavily on gut feel to make a forecast. This is why analysts often make inaccurate forecasts, and also why familiarity with a company is essential before making a forecast.

Price Earnings to Growth (PEG) Ratio

 This valuation technique has really become popular over the past decade or so. It is better than just looking at a P/E because it takes three factors into account; the price, earnings, and earnings growth rates. To compute the PEG ratio, divide the Forward P/E by the expected earnings growth rate (you can also use historical P/E and historical growth rate to see where it’s traded in the past). This will yield a ratio that is usually expressed as a percentage. The theory goes that as the percentage rises over 100% the stock becomes more and more overvalued, and as the PEG ratio falls below 100% the stock becomes more and more undervalued. The theory is based on a belief that P/E ratios should approximate the long-term growth rate of a company’s earnings. Whether or not this is true will never be proven and the theory is therefore just a rule of thumb to use in the overall valuation process.

Here’s an example of how to use the PEG ratio. Say you are comparing two stocks that you are thinking about buying. Stock A is trading at a forward P/E of 15 and expected to grow at 20%. Stock B is trading at a forward P/E of 30 and expected to grow at 25%. The PEG ratio for Stock A is 75% (15/20) and for Stock B is 120% (30/25). According to the PEG ratio, Stock A is a better purchase because it has a lower PEG ratio, or in other words, you can purchase its future earnings growth for a lower relative price than that of Stock B.