When we invest, we’re generally looking for stocks that outperform the market average. Buying under-rated businesses is one path to excess returns. For example, the Smart Metering Systems plc (LON:SMS) share price is up 28% in the last 5 years, clearly besting than the market return of around 0.8% (ignoring dividends).
In his essay The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville Warren Buffett described how share prices do not always rationally reflect the value of a business. By comparing earnings per share (EPS) and share price changes over time, we can get a feel for how investor attitudes to a company have morphed over time.
During five years of share price growth, Smart Metering Systems actually saw its EPS drop 13% per year. This means it’s unlikely the market is judging the company based on earnings growth. Since the change in EPS doesn’t seem to correlate with the change in share price, it’s worth taking a look at other metrics.
We doubt the modest 1.3% dividend yield is attracting many buyers to the stock. In contrast revenue growth of 22% per year is probably viewed as evidence that Smart Metering Systems is growing, a real positive. In that case, the company may be sacrificing current earnings per share to drive growth.
You can see how its balance sheet has strengthened (or weakened) over time in this free interactive graphic.
What About Dividends?
It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. It’s fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. In the case of Smart Metering Systems, it has a TSR of 34% for the last 5 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. And there’s no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!
A Different Perspective
While the broader market gained around 2.9% in the last year, Smart Metering Systems shareholders lost 25% (even including dividends). Even the share prices of good stocks drop sometimes, but we want to see improvements in the fundamental metrics of a business, before getting too interested. On the bright side, long term shareholders have made money, with a gain of 6.0% per year over half a decade. If the fundamental data continues to indicate long term sustainable growth, the current sell-off could be an opportunity worth considering. You might want to assess this data-rich visualization of its earnings, revenue and cash flow.
But note: Smart Metering Systems may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with past earnings growth (and further growth forecast).
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on GB exchanges.
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 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. Thank you for reading.