Why MSA Safety Incorporated’s (NYSE:MSA) High P/E Ratio Isn’t Necessarily A Bad Thing

Today, we’ll introduce the concept of the P/E ratio for those who are learning about investing. We’ll look at MSA Safety Incorporated’s (NYSE:MSA) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company’s share price. MSA Safety has a price to earnings ratio of 41.06, based on the last twelve months. In other words, at today’s prices, investors are paying $41.06 for every $1 in prior year profit.

Check out our latest analysis for MSA Safety

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for MSA Safety:

P/E of 41.06 = USD138.31 ÷ USD3.37 (Based on the year to September 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings 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 MSA Safety 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 (26.0) for companies in the commercial services industry is lower than MSA Safety’s P/E.

NYSE:MSA Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 31st 2020
NYSE:MSA Price Estimation Relative to Market, January 31st 2020

MSA Safety’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 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. Earnings growth means that in the future the ‘E’ will be higher. And in that case, the P/E ratio itself will drop rather quickly. And as that P/E ratio drops, the company will look cheap, unless its share price increases.

MSA Safety’s earnings made like a rocket, taking off 95% last year. Having said that, if we look back three years, EPS growth has averaged a comparatively less impressive 13%.

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. 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.

MSA Safety’s Balance Sheet

MSA Safety has net debt worth just 3.6% of its market capitalization. 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 MSA Safety’s P/E Ratio

MSA Safety trades on a P/E ratio of 41.1, which is above its market average of 18.4. While the company does use modest debt, its recent earnings growth is superb. So on this analysis a high P/E ratio seems reasonable.

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 MSA Safety. 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.