In order to justify the effort of selecting individual stocks, it’s worth striving to beat the returns from a market index fund. But even the best stock picker will only win with some selections. So we wouldn’t blame long term China Life Insurance Company Limited (HKG:2628) shareholders for doubting their decision to hold, with the stock down 40% over a half decade. The good news is that the stock is up 3.0% in the last week.
While markets are a powerful pricing mechanism, share prices reflect investor sentiment, not just underlying business performance. By comparing earnings per share (EPS) and share price changes over time, we can get a feel for how investor attitudes to a company have morphed over time.
While the share price declined over five years, China Life Insurance actually managed to increase EPS by an average of 2.7% per year. So it doesn’t seem like EPS is a great guide to understanding how the market is valuing the stock. Alternatively, growth expectations may have been unreasonable in the past.
Based on these numbers, we’d venture that the market may have been over-optimistic about forecast growth, half a decade ago. Looking to other metrics might better explain the share price change.
We note that the dividend has remained healthy, so that wouldn’t really explain the share price drop. While it’s not completely obvious why the share price is down, a closer look at the company’s history might help explain it.
The company’s revenue and earnings (over time) are depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).
China Life Insurance is a well known stock, with plenty of analyst coverage, suggesting some visibility into future growth. You can see what analysts are predicting for China Life Insurance in this interactive graph of future profit estimates.
What About Dividends?
It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. The TSR is a return calculation that accounts for the value of cash dividends (assuming that any dividend received was reinvested) and the calculated value of any discounted capital raisings and spin-offs. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. As it happens, China Life Insurance’s TSR for the last 5 years was -32%, which exceeds the share price return mentioned earlier. The dividends paid by the company have thusly boosted the total shareholder return.
A Different Perspective
China Life Insurance shareholders gained a total return of 2.7% during the year. But that was short of the market average. On the bright side, that’s still a gain, and it is certainly better than the yearly loss of about 6% endured over half a decade. So this might be a sign the business has turned its fortunes around. While it is well worth considering the different impacts that market conditions can have on the share price, there are other factors that are even more important. Consider risks, for instance. Every company has them, and we’ve spotted 1 warning sign for China Life Insurance you should know about.
If you would prefer to check out another company — one with potentially superior financials — then do not miss this free list of companies that have proven they can grow earnings.
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on HK exchanges.
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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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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