To the annoyance of some shareholders, HealthEquity (NASDAQ:HQY) shares are down a considerable 36% in the last month. That drop has capped off a tough year for shareholders, with the share price down 43% in that time.
Assuming nothing else has changed, a lower share price makes a stock more attractive to potential buyers. In the long term, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, but in the short term prices bounce around in response to short term factors (which are not always obvious). So, on certain occasions, long term focussed investors try to take advantage of pessimistic expectations to buy shares at a better price. One way to gauge market expectations of a stock 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.
How Does HealthEquity's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?
We can tell from its P/E ratio of 57.60 that there is some investor optimism about HealthEquity. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (19.4) for companies in the healthcare industry is lower than HealthEquity's P/E.
Its relatively high P/E ratio indicates that HealthEquity shareholders think it will perform better than other companies in its industry classification. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn't guaranteed. So further research is always essential. I often monitor director buying and selling.
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. If earnings are growing quickly, then the 'E' in the equation will increase faster than it would otherwise. 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.
HealthEquity shrunk earnings per share by 25% over the last year. But over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have increased by 62%.
A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank
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. The exact same company would hypothetically deserve a higher P/E ratio if it had a strong balance sheet, than if it had a weak one with lots of debt, because a cashed up company can spend on growth.
While growth expenditure doesn't always pay off, the point is that it is a good option to have; but one that the P/E ratio ignores.
So What Does HealthEquity's Balance Sheet Tell Us?
HealthEquity has net debt equal to 32% of its market cap. While it's worth keeping this in mind, it isn't a worry.
The Bottom Line On HealthEquity's P/E Ratio
HealthEquity's P/E is 57.6 which suggests the market is more focussed on the future opportunity rather than the current level of earnings. With modest debt but no EPS growth in the last year, it's fair to say the P/E implies some optimism about future earnings, from the market. Given HealthEquity's P/E ratio has declined from 90.6 to 57.6 in the last month, we know for sure that the market is significantly less confident about the business today, than it was back then. 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 have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If the reality for a company is better than it expects, you can make money by buying and holding for the long term. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.
Of course you might be able to find a better stock than HealthEquity. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.
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.
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