Despite Its High P/E Ratio, Is W.W. Grainger, Inc. (NYSE:GWW) Still Undervalued?

Today, we’ll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We’ll apply a basic P/E ratio analysis to W.W. Grainger, Inc.’s (NYSE:GWW), to help you decide if the stock is worth further research. What is W.W. Grainger’s P/E ratio? Well, based on the last twelve months it is 19.54. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 5.1%.

See our latest analysis for W.W. Grainger

How Do I Calculate W.W. Grainger’s Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for W.W. Grainger:

P/E of 19.54 = USD303.32 ÷ USD15.52 (Based on the year to December 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 a good or a bad thing on its own, but a high P/E means that buyers have a higher opinion of the business’s prospects, relative to stocks with a lower P/E.

Does W.W. Grainger 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 (15.9) for companies in the trade distributors industry is lower than W.W. Grainger’s P/E.

NYSE:GWW Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 24th 2020
NYSE:GWW Price Estimation Relative to Market, February 24th 2020

Its relatively high P/E ratio indicates that W.W. Grainger shareholders think it will perform better than other companies in its industry classification. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. So further research is always essential. I often monitor director buying and selling.

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.

W.W. Grainger increased earnings per share by an impressive 11% over the last twelve months. And earnings per share have improved by 6.0% annually, over the last five years. With that performance, you might expect an above average P/E ratio.

Don’t Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

The ‘Price’ in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. That means it doesn’t take debt or cash into account. Theoretically, a business can improve its earnings (and produce a lower P/E in the future) by investing in growth. That means taking on debt (or spending its cash).

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.

Is Debt Impacting W.W. Grainger’s P/E?

W.W. Grainger’s net debt is 11% 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 Bottom Line On W.W. Grainger’s P/E Ratio

W.W. Grainger trades on a P/E ratio of 19.5, which is fairly close to the US market average of 18.2. When you consider the impressive EPS growth last year (along with some debt), it seems the market has questions about whether rapid EPS growth will be sustained. Given analysts are expecting further growth, one might have expected a higher P/E ratio. That may be worth further research.

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. 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 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.

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. Thank you for reading.