To the annoyance of some shareholders, Exelon (NASDAQ:EXC) shares are down a considerable 39% in the last month. Indeed the recent decline has arguably caused some bitterness for shareholders who have held through the 38% drop over twelve months.
Assuming nothing else has changed, a lower share price makes a stock more attractive to potential buyers. While the market sentiment towards a stock is very changeable, in the long run, the share price will tend to move in the same direction as earnings per share. The implication here is that long term investors have an opportunity when expectations of a company are too low. Perhaps the simplest way to get a read on investors' expectations of a business is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E ratio means that investors have a high expectation about future growth, while a low P/E ratio means they have low expectations about future growth.
Does Exelon Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
Exelon's P/E of 10.11 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. If you look at the image below, you can see Exelon has a lower P/E than the average (18.3) in the electric utilities industry classification.
Exelon's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Many investors like to buy stocks when the market is pessimistic about their prospects. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. That's because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the 'E' in the equation. That means unless the share price increases, the P/E will reduce in a few years. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.
Exelon increased earnings per share by a whopping 46% last year. And earnings per share have improved by 9.8% annually, over the last five years. So we'd generally expect it to have a relatively high 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. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.
Such expenditure might be good or bad, in the long term, but the point here is that the balance sheet is not reflected by this ratio.
Exelon's Balance Sheet
Exelon has net debt worth a very significant 125% of its market capitalization. This level of debt justifies a relatively low P/E, so remain cognizant of the debt, if you're comparing it to other stocks.
The Verdict On Exelon's P/E Ratio
Exelon's P/E is 10.1 which is below average (12.7) in the US market. The company has a meaningful amount of debt on the balance sheet, but that should not eclipse the solid earnings growth. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low. What can be absolutely certain is that the market has become significantly less optimistic about Exelon over the last month, with the P/E ratio falling from 16.5 back then to 10.1 today. For those who don't like to trade against momentum, that could be a warning sign, but a contrarian investor might want to take a closer look.
Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. If the reality for a company is not as bad as the P/E ratio indicates, then the share price should increase as the market realizes this. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.
But note: Exelon may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.