Does Telstra Corporation Limited’s (ASX:TLS) P/E Ratio Signal A Buying Opportunity?

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 Telstra Corporation Limited’s (ASX:TLS) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Based on the last twelve months, Telstra’s P/E ratio is 12.58. That means that at current prices, buyers pay A$12.58 for every A$1 in trailing yearly profits.

View our latest analysis for Telstra

How Do You Calculate Telstra’s P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Telstra:

P/E of 12.58 = A$3.27 ÷ A$0.26 (Based on the year to December 2018.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that buyers have to pay a higher price for each A$1 the company has earned over the last year. 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.’

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

If earnings fall then in the future the ‘E’ will be lower. Therefore, even if you pay a low multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become higher in the future. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.

Telstra’s earnings per share fell by 19% in the last twelve months. And EPS is down 4.2% a year, over the last 5 years. This could justify a pessimistic P/E.

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

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. We can see in the image below that the average P/E (34.2) for companies in the telecom industry is higher than Telstra’s P/E.

ASX:TLS Price Estimation Relative to Market, April 5th 2019
ASX:TLS Price Estimation Relative to Market, April 5th 2019

This suggests that market participants think Telstra will underperform other companies in its industry. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.

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

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. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

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.

Telstra’s Balance Sheet

Net debt totals 46% of Telstra’s market cap. This is enough debt that you’d have to make some adjustments before using the P/E ratio to compare it to a company with net cash.

The Verdict On Telstra’s P/E Ratio

Telstra has a P/E of 12.6. That’s below the average in the AU market, which is 16.3. The debt levels are not a major concern, but the lack of EPS growth is likely weighing on sentiment.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If the reality for a company is not as bad as the P/E ratio indicates, then the share price should increase as the market realizes this. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

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

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.