Unfortunately for some shareholders, the Union Bankshares (NASDAQ:UNB) share price has dived 38% in the last thirty days. Indeed the recent decline has arguably caused some bitterness for shareholders who have held through the 55% drop over twelve months.
All else being equal, a share price drop should make a stock more attractive to potential investors. 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). The implication here is that long term investors have an opportunity when expectations of a company are too low. 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.
Does Union Bankshares Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
Union Bankshares’s P/E of 8.63 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (9.7) for companies in the banks industry is higher than Union Bankshares’s P/E.
This suggests that market participants think Union Bankshares will underperform other companies in its 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
Generally speaking the rate of earnings growth has a profound impact on a company’s P/E multiple. 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. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others — and that may attract buyers.
Union Bankshares’s 50% EPS improvement over the last year was like bamboo growth after rain; rapid and impressive. Having said that, the average EPS growth over the last three years wasn’t so good, coming in at 7.6%.
Remember: P/E Ratios Don’t Consider The Balance Sheet
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. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.
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.
How Does Union Bankshares’s Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?
Union Bankshares has net cash of US$12m. This is fairly high at 14% of its market capitalization. That might mean balance sheet strength is important to the business, but should also help push the P/E a bit higher than it would otherwise be.
The Verdict On Union Bankshares’s P/E Ratio
Union Bankshares has a P/E of 8.6. That’s below the average in the US market, which is 13.3. Not only should the net cash position reduce risk, but the recent growth has been impressive. One might conclude that the market is a bit pessimistic, given the low P/E ratio. Given Union Bankshares’s P/E ratio has declined from 14.0 to 8.6 in the last month, we know for sure that the market is more worried about the business today, than it was back then. For those who prefer invest in growth, this stock apparently offers limited promise, but the deep value investors may find the pessimism around this stock enticing.
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. Although we don’t have analyst forecasts you might want to assess this data-rich visualization of earnings, revenue and cash flow.
You might be able to find a better buy than Union Bankshares. 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).
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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