The past five years for Associated British Foods (LON:ABF) investors has not been profitable

By
Simply Wall St
Published
February 25, 2022
LSE:ABF
Source: Shutterstock

For many, the main point of investing is to generate higher returns than the overall market. But even the best stock picker will only win with some selections. So we wouldn't blame long term Associated British Foods plc (LON:ABF) shareholders for doubting their decision to hold, with the stock down 27% over a half decade. And some of the more recent buyers are probably worried, too, with the stock falling 22% in the last year.

Now let's have a look at the company's fundamentals, and see if the long term shareholder return has matched the performance of the underlying business.

See our latest analysis for Associated British Foods

There is no denying that markets are sometimes efficient, but prices do not always reflect underlying business performance. One imperfect but simple way to consider how the market perception of a company has shifted is to compare the change in the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price movement.

Looking back five years, both Associated British Foods' share price and EPS declined; the latter at a rate of 10% per year. This fall in the EPS is worse than the 6% compound annual share price fall. So investors might expect EPS to bounce back -- or they may have previously foreseen the EPS decline.

The company's earnings per share (over time) is depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).

earnings-per-share-growth
LSE:ABF Earnings Per Share Growth February 25th 2022

Dive deeper into Associated British Foods' key metrics by checking this interactive graph of Associated British Foods's earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What About Dividends?

When looking at investment returns, it is important to consider the difference between total shareholder return (TSR) and share price return. Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. We note that for Associated British Foods the TSR over the last 5 years was -21%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!

A Different Perspective

Associated British Foods shareholders are down 20% for the year (even including dividends), but the market itself is up 2.0%. Even the share prices of good stocks drop sometimes, but we want to see improvements in the fundamental metrics of a business, before getting too interested. Unfortunately, last year's performance may indicate unresolved challenges, given that it was worse than the annualised loss of 4% over the last half decade. We realise that Baron Rothschild has said investors should "buy when there is blood on the streets", but we caution that investors should first be sure they are buying a high quality business. I find it very interesting to look at share price over the long term as a proxy for business performance. But to truly gain insight, we need to consider other information, too. Consider for instance, the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We've identified 1 warning sign with Associated British Foods , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.

We will like Associated British Foods better if we see some big insider buys. While we wait, check out this free list of growing companies with considerable, recent, insider buying.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on GB exchanges.

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