Is Biffa plc’s (LON:BIFF) High P/E Ratio A Problem For Investors?

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). To keep it practical, we’ll show how Biffa plc’s (LON:BIFF) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. What is Biffa’s P/E ratio? Well, based on the last twelve months it is 34.12. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 2.9%.

Check out our latest analysis for Biffa

How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Biffa:

P/E of 34.12 = £2.675 ÷ £0.078 (Based on the trailing twelve months to September 2019.)

(Note: the above calculation results may not be precise due to rounding.)

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio implies that investors pay a higher price for the earning power of the business. That is not a good or a bad thing per se, but a high P/E does imply buyers are optimistic about the future.

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

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (11.8) for companies in the commercial services industry is lower than Biffa’s P/E.

LSE:BIFF Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 23rd 2020
LSE:BIFF Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 23rd 2020

Its relatively high P/E ratio indicates that Biffa shareholders think it will perform better than other companies in its industry classification. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn’t guaranteed. So investors should always consider the P/E ratio alongside other factors, such as whether company directors have been buying shares.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. If earnings are growing quickly, then the ‘E’ in the equation will increase faster than it would otherwise. And in that case, the P/E ratio itself will drop rather quickly. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others — and that may attract buyers.

Biffa shrunk earnings per share by 26% over the last year. And EPS is down 37% a year, over the last 5 years. This could justify a pessimistic P/E.

A Limitation: P/E Ratios Ignore Debt and Cash In The Bank

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. So it won’t reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. The exact same company would hypothetically deserve a higher P/E ratio if it had a strong balance sheet, than if it had a weak one with lots of debt, because a cashed up company can spend on 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.

Biffa’s Balance Sheet

Net debt is 34% of Biffa’s market cap. You’d want to be aware of this fact, but it doesn’t bother us.

The Verdict On Biffa’s P/E Ratio

Biffa’s P/E is 34.1 which is above average (11.8) in its market. With modest debt but no EPS growth in the last year, it’s fair to say the P/E implies some optimism about future earnings, from the market.

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 report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Biffa. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.