Unfortunately for some shareholders, the QBE Insurance Group (ASX:QBE) share price has dived 36% in the last thirty days. The recent drop has obliterated the annual return, with the share price now down 27% over that longer period.
All else being equal, a share price drop should make a stock more attractive to potential investors. 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. So, on certain occasions, long term focussed investors try to take advantage of pessimistic expectations to buy shares at a better price. 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.
How Does QBE Insurance Group’s P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?
QBE Insurance Group’s P/E of 12.97 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. If you look at the image below, you can see QBE Insurance Group has a lower P/E than the average (17.5) in the insurance industry classification.
This suggests that market participants think QBE Insurance Group will underperform other companies in its industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with QBE Insurance Group, it’s quite possible it could surprise on the upside. 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
Companies that shrink earnings per share quickly will rapidly decrease the ‘E’ in the equation. That means even if the current P/E is low, it will increase over time if the share price stays flat. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.
QBE Insurance Group’s earnings per share grew by -3.0% in the last twelve months. But earnings per share are down 5.5% per year over the last five years.
A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank
The ‘Price’ in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. 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.
How Does QBE Insurance Group’s Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?
QBE Insurance Group’s net debt is 19% of its market cap. It would probably deserve a higher P/E ratio if it was net cash, since it would have more options for growth.
The Verdict On QBE Insurance Group’s P/E Ratio
QBE Insurance Group has a P/E of 13.0. That’s below the average in the AU market, which is 14.9. The company does have a little debt, and EPS is moving in the right direction. If growth is sustainable over the long term, then the current P/E ratio may be a sign of good value. What can be absolutely certain is that the market has become significantly less optimistic about QBE Insurance Group over the last month, with the P/E ratio falling from 20.1 back then to 13.0 today. For those who prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might be a bad sign, but for a contrarian, it may signal opportunity.
Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. 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. So this free visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.
Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking at a few good candidates. So take a peek at this free list of companies with modest (or no) debt, trading on a P/E below 20.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at email@example.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.
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