Is PICO Holdings, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:PICO) 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). We’ll apply a basic P/E ratio analysis to PICO Holdings, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:PICO), to help you decide if the stock is worth further research. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, PICO Holdings has a P/E ratio of 52.81. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $52.81 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

See our latest analysis for PICO Holdings

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for PICO Holdings:

P/E of 52.81 = $8.030 ÷ $0.152 (Based on the year to March 2020.)

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

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying a higher price for each $1 of company earnings. That is not a good or a bad thing per se, but a high P/E does imply buyers are optimistic about the future.

How Does PICO Holdings’s P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

The P/E ratio essentially measures market expectations of a company. The image below shows that PICO Holdings has a higher P/E than the average (18.5) P/E for companies in the commercial services industry.

NasdaqGS:PICO Price Estimation Relative to Market May 25th 2020
NasdaqGS:PICO Price Estimation Relative to Market May 25th 2020

Its relatively high P/E ratio indicates that PICO Holdings shareholders think it will perform better than other companies in its industry classification. The market is optimistic about the future, but that doesn’t guarantee future growth. 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

P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. When earnings grow, the ‘E’ increases, over time. 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.

PICO Holdings shrunk earnings per share by 47% over the last year.

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. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

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.

PICO Holdings’s Balance Sheet

Since PICO Holdings holds net cash of US$12m, it can spend on growth, justifying a higher P/E ratio than otherwise.

The Verdict On PICO Holdings’s P/E Ratio

With a P/E ratio of 52.8, PICO Holdings is expected to grow earnings very strongly in the years to come. The recent drop in earnings per share might keep value investors away, but the healthy balance sheet means the company retains the potential for future growth. If this growth fails to materialise, the current high P/E could prove to be temporary, as the share price falls.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. If the reality for a company is better than it expects, you can make money by buying and holding for the long term. We don’t have analyst forecasts, but you could get a better understanding of its growth by checking out this more detailed historical graph of earnings, revenue and cash flow.

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.

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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.