Why Waste Management, Inc.’s (NYSE:WM) High P/E Ratio Isn’t Necessarily A Bad Thing

The goal of this article is to teach you how to use price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We’ll show how you can use Waste Management, Inc.’s (NYSE:WM) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. What is Waste Management’s P/E ratio? Well, based on the last twelve months it is 22.34. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $22.34 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

See our latest analysis for Waste Management

How Do You Calculate Waste Management’s P/E Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Waste Management:

P/E of 22.34 = $87.870 ÷ $3.933 (Based on the year to December 2019.)

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

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. All else being equal, it’s better to pay a low price — but as Warren Buffett said, ‘It’s far better to buy a wonderful company at a fair price than a fair company at a wonderful price’.

Does Waste Management 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. As you can see below, Waste Management has a higher P/E than the average company (17.8) in the commercial services industry.

NYSE:WM Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 24th 2020
NYSE:WM Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 24th 2020

That means that the market expects Waste Management will outperform other companies in its industry. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn’t guaranteed. 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. When earnings grow, the ‘E’ increases, over time. Therefore, even if you pay a high multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become lower in the future. Then, a lower P/E should attract more buyers, pushing the share price up.

Waste Management shrunk earnings per share by 12% over the last year. But over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have increased by 7.0%.

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

The ‘Price’ in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. 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.

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.

How Does Waste Management’s Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?

Net debt totals 23% of Waste Management’s market cap. This could bring some additional risk, and reduce the number of investment options for management; worth remembering if you compare its P/E to businesses without debt.

The Bottom Line On Waste Management’s P/E Ratio

Waste Management has a P/E of 22.3. That’s higher than the average in its market, which is 11.5. 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.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If the reality for a company is better than it expects, you can make money by buying and holding for the long term. So this free report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.

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

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.