How Does Saia’s (NASDAQ:SAIA) P/E Compare To Its Industry, After Its Big Share Price Gain?

Saia (NASDAQ:SAIA) shareholders are no doubt pleased to see that the share price has had a great month, posting a 39% gain, recovering from prior weakness. That brought the twelve month gain to a very sharp 56%.

All else being equal, a sharp share price increase should make a stock less 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 some would prefer to hold off buying when there is a lot of optimism towards a stock. 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.

View our latest analysis for Saia

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

We can tell from its P/E ratio of 22.12 that there is some investor optimism about Saia. As you can see below, Saia has a higher P/E than the average company (20.3) in the transportation industry.

NasdaqGS:SAIA Price Estimation Relative to Market May 20th 2020
NasdaqGS:SAIA Price Estimation Relative to Market May 20th 2020

Saia’s P/E tells us that market participants think the company will perform better than its industry peers, going forward. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. So investors should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or 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. So while a stock may look expensive based on past earnings, it could be cheap based on future earnings.

Most would be impressed by Saia earnings growth of 12% in the last year. And it has bolstered its earnings per share by 15% per year over the last five years. This could arguably justify a relatively high P/E ratio.

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

It’s important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. That means it doesn’t take debt or cash into account. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.

So What Does Saia’s Balance Sheet Tell Us?

Saia’s net debt is 3.9% of its market cap. The market might award it a higher P/E ratio if it had net cash, but its unlikely this low level of net borrowing is having a big impact on the P/E multiple.

The Verdict On Saia’s P/E Ratio

Saia trades on a P/E ratio of 22.1, which is above its market average of 14.7. The company is not overly constrained by its modest debt levels, and its recent EPS growth very solid. Therefore, it’s not particularly surprising that it has a above average P/E ratio. What we know for sure is that investors have become much more excited about Saia recently, since they have pushed its P/E ratio from 15.9 to 22.1 over the last month. For those who prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might mean it’s time to put the stock on a watchlist, or research it. But the contrarian may see it as a missed opportunity.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. 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 visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

You might be able to find a better buy than Saia. 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).

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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.