Here’s How P/E Ratios Can Help Us Understand Waste Management, Inc. (NYSE:WM)

This article is written for those who want to get better at using price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We’ll show how you can use Waste Management, Inc.’s (NYSE:WM) P/E ratio to inform your assessment of the investment opportunity. Waste Management has a price to earnings ratio of 17.48, based on the last twelve months. That means that at current prices, buyers pay $17.48 for every $1 in trailing yearly profits.

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How Do You Calculate Waste Management’s P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Waste Management:

P/E of 17.48 = $93.11 ÷ $5.33 (Based on the year to September 2018.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio implies that investors pay a higher price for the earning power of the business. 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

Probably the most important factor in determining what P/E a company trades on is the earnings growth. Earnings growth means that in the future the ‘E’ will be higher. 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.

Notably, Waste Management grew EPS by a whopping 70% in the last year. And it has bolstered its earnings per share by 34% per year over the last five years. So we’d generally expect it to have a relatively high P/E ratio.

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

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. The image below shows that Waste Management has a P/E ratio that is roughly in line with the commercial services industry average (18.4).

NYSE:WM PE PEG Gauge January 16th 19
NYSE:WM PE PEG Gauge January 16th 19

Waste Management’s P/E tells us that market participants think its prospects are roughly in line with its industry. The company could surprise by performing better than average, in the future. Further research into factors such asmanagement tenure, could help you form your own view on whether that is likely.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don’t Consider The Balance Sheet

Don’t forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.

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).

Waste Management’s Balance Sheet

Net debt totals 26% of Waste Management’s market cap. If you want to compare its P/E ratio to other companies, you should absolutely keep in mind it has significant borrowings.

The Verdict On Waste Management’s P/E Ratio

Waste Management has a P/E of 17.5. That’s around the same as the average in the US market, which is 16.8. Given it has reasonable debt levels, and grew earnings strongly last year, the P/E indicates the market has doubts this growth can be sustained.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, ‘In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.’ 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.

But note: Waste Management may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with strong recent earnings growth (and a P/E ratio below 20).

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.