A Rising Share Price Has Us Looking Closely At VSE Corporation’s (NASDAQ:VSEC) P/E Ratio

Those holding VSE (NASDAQ:VSEC) shares must be pleased that the share price has rebounded 32% in the last thirty days. But unfortunately, the stock is still down by 21% over a quarter. But shareholders may not all be feeling jubilant, since the share price is still down 13% in the last year.

Assuming no other changes, a sharply higher share price makes a stock less 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 deep value investors might steer clear when expectations of a company are too high. One way to gauge market expectations of a stock is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). Investors have optimistic expectations of companies with higher P/E ratios, compared to companies with lower P/E ratios.

Check out our latest analysis for VSE

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

VSE’s P/E of 7.77 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. If you look at the image below, you can see VSE has a lower P/E than the average (16.8) in the commercial services industry classification.

NasdaqGS:VSEC Price Estimation Relative to Market May 19th 2020
NasdaqGS:VSEC Price Estimation Relative to Market May 19th 2020

VSE’s P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. 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

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. That’s because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the ‘E’ in the equation. 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.

VSE shrunk earnings per share by 3.3% last year. But it has grown its earnings per share by 11% per year over the last five years.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don’t Consider The Balance Sheet

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. So it won’t reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

Spending on growth might be good or bad a few years later, but the point is that the P/E ratio does not account for the option (or lack thereof).

So What Does VSE’s Balance Sheet Tell Us?

VSE’s net debt is considerable, at 103% of its market cap. If you want to compare its P/E ratio to other companies, you must keep in mind that these debt levels would usually warrant a relatively low P/E.

The Bottom Line On VSE’s P/E Ratio

VSE trades on a P/E ratio of 7.8, which is below the US market average of 14.2. Given meaningful debt, and a lack of recent growth, the market looks to be extrapolating this recent performance; reflecting low expectations for the future. What is very clear is that the market has become less pessimistic about VSE over the last month, with the P/E ratio rising from 5.9 back then to 7.8 today. For those who like to invest in turnarounds, that might mean it’s time to put the stock on a watchlist, or research it. But others might consider the opportunity to have passed.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, ‘In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine. Although we don’t have analyst forecasts you could get a better understanding of its growth by checking out this more detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.

But note: VSE 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).

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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned. Thank you for reading.