Why W.W. Grainger, Inc.’s (NYSE:GWW) High P/E Ratio Isn’t Necessarily A Bad Thing

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We’ll show how you can use W.W. Grainger, Inc.’s (NYSE:GWW) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. W.W. Grainger has a price to earnings ratio of 22.3, based on the last twelve months. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $22.3 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

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How Do I Calculate W.W. Grainger’s Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for W.W. Grainger:

P/E of 22.3 = $284.49 ÷ $12.76 (Based on the year to September 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 $1 the company has earned over the last year. 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

Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. 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.

W.W. Grainger increased earnings per share by a whopping 51% last year. And it has improved its earnings per share by 1.3% per year over the last three years. I’d therefore be a little surprised if its P/E ratio was not relatively high. In contrast, EPS has decreased by 1.0%, annually, over 5 years.

How Does W.W. Grainger’s P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (12.3) for companies in the trade distributors industry is lower than W.W. Grainger’s P/E.

NYSE:GWW PE PEG Gauge January 11th 19
NYSE:GWW PE PEG Gauge January 11th 19

That means that the market expects W.W. Grainger will outperform other companies in its industry. Clearly the market expects growth, but it isn’t guaranteed. So investors should always consider the P/E ratio alongside other factors, such as whether company directors have been buying shares.

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. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

Spending on growth might be good or bad a few years later, but the point is that the P/E ratio does not account for the option (or lack thereof).

Is Debt Impacting W.W. Grainger’s P/E?

Net debt totals 11% of W.W. Grainger’s market cap. It would probably deserve a higher P/E ratio if it was net cash, since it would have more options for growth.

The Verdict On W.W. Grainger’s P/E Ratio

W.W. Grainger has a P/E of 22.3. That’s higher than the average in the US market, which is 16.8. While the company does use modest debt, its recent earnings growth is impressive. So it does not seem strange that the P/E is above average.

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. People often underestimate remarkable growth — so investors can make money when fast growth is not fully appreciated. So this free visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.

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

To help readers see past the short term volatility of the financial market, we aim to bring you a long-term focused research analysis purely driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis does not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements.

The author is an independent contributor and at the time of publication had no position in the stocks mentioned. For errors that warrant correction please contact the editor at editorial-team@simplywallst.com.