Don’t Sell ALS Limited (ASX:ALQ) Before You Read This

The goal of this article is to teach you how to use price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). To keep it practical, we’ll show how ALS Limited’s (ASX:ALQ) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, ALS has a P/E ratio of 26.54. That is equivalent to an earnings yield of about 3.8%.

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How Do I Calculate A Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for ALS:

P/E of 26.54 = A$8.07 ÷ A$0.30 (Based on the year to September 2018.)

Is A High P/E Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that investors are paying a higher price for each A$1 of company 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.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

P/E ratios primarily reflect market expectations around earnings growth rates. That’s because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the ‘E’ in the equation. 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.

ALS’s 219% EPS improvement over the last year was like bamboo growth after rain; rapid and impressive. Unfortunately, earnings per share are down 11% a year, over 5 years.

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

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. As you can see below, ALS has a higher P/E than the average company (17.9) in the professional services industry.

ASX:ALQ Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 15th 2019
ASX:ALQ Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 15th 2019

ALS’s P/E tells us that market participants think the company will perform better than its industry peers, going forward. The market is optimistic about the future, but that doesn’t guarantee future growth. So further research is always essential. I often monitor director buying and selling.

Don’t Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

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

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

ALS’s net debt is 15% of its market cap. That’s enough debt to impact the P/E ratio a little; so keep it in mind if you’re comparing it to companies without debt.

The Verdict On ALS’s P/E Ratio

ALS has a P/E of 26.5. That’s higher than the average in the AU market, which is 15.8. The company is not overly constrained by its modest debt levels, and its recent EPS growth is nothing short of stand-out. So to be frank we are not surprised it has a high P/E ratio.

Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. People often underestimate remarkable growth — so investors can make money when fast growth is not fully appreciated. 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 ALS. 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).

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.

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. Thank you for reading.