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Should We Worry About Clean Harbors, Inc.'s (NYSE:CLH) P/E Ratio?

Simply Wall St

Today, we'll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We'll look at Clean Harbors, Inc.'s (NYSE:CLH) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, Clean Harbors has a P/E ratio of 49.31. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 2.0%.

Check out our latest analysis for Clean Harbors

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

Price to Earnings Ratio = Price per Share ÷ Earnings per Share (EPS)

Or for Clean Harbors:

P/E of 49.31 = $74.71 ÷ $1.52 (Based on the trailing twelve months to June 2019.)

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

The higher the P/E ratio, the higher the price tag of a business, relative to its trailing earnings. That isn't necessarily good or bad, but a high P/E implies relatively high expectations of what a company can achieve in the future.

Does Clean Harbors Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (25.5) for companies in the commercial services industry is lower than Clean Harbors's P/E.

NYSE:CLH Price Estimation Relative to Market, October 16th 2019

That means that the market expects Clean Harbors will outperform other companies in its industry. The market is optimistic about the future, but that doesn't guarantee future growth. So investors should always consider the P/E ratio alongside other factors, such as whether company directors have been buying shares.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Generally speaking the rate of earnings growth has a profound impact on a company's P/E multiple. Earnings growth means that in the future the 'E' will be higher. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.

Clean Harbors shrunk earnings per share by 25% over the last year. But over the longer term (3 years), earnings per share have increased by 54%. And EPS is down 1.6% a year, over the last 5 years. This might lead to muted expectations.

A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank

Don't forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. 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.

Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.

So What Does Clean Harbors's Balance Sheet Tell Us?

Clean Harbors's net debt equates to 31% of its market capitalization. While it's worth keeping this in mind, it isn't a worry.

The Verdict On Clean Harbors's P/E Ratio

Clean Harbors's P/E is 49.3 which is above average (17.7) in its market. With a bit of debt, but a lack of recent growth, it's safe to say the market is expecting improved profit performance from the company, in the next few years.

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 report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.

You might be able to find a better buy than Clean Harbors. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).

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.

If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com. 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. Thank you for reading.