Why Walmart Inc.’s (NYSE:WMT) High P/E Ratio Isn’t Necessarily A Bad Thing

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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 Walmart Inc.’s (NYSE:WMT) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. Based on the last twelve months, Walmart’s P/E ratio is 57.07. In other words, at today’s prices, investors are paying $57.07 for every $1 in prior year profit.

Check out our latest analysis for Walmart

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

The formula for price to earnings is:

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

Or for Walmart:

P/E of 57.07 = $99.99 ÷ $1.75 (Based on the year to October 2018.)

Is A High P/E 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

Companies that shrink earnings per share quickly will rapidly decrease the ‘E’ in the equation. That means unless the share price falls, the P/E will increase in a few years. A higher P/E should indicate the stock is expensive relative to others — and that may encourage shareholders to sell.

Walmart shrunk earnings per share by 54% over the last year. And it has shrunk its earnings per share by 12% per year over the last five years. This growth rate might warrant a below average P/E ratio.

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

The P/E ratio indicates whether the market has higher or lower expectations of a company. As you can see below, Walmart has a much higher P/E than the average company (15.2) in the consumer retailing industry.

NYSE:WMT PE PEG Gauge February 18th 19
NYSE:WMT PE PEG Gauge February 18th 19

Walmart’s P/E tells us that market participants think the company will perform better than its industry peers, going forward. Shareholders are clearly optimistic, but the future is always uncertain. 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

The ‘Price’ in P/E reflects the market capitalization of the company. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. 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).

Walmart’s Balance Sheet

Walmart’s net debt is 18% of its 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 Walmart’s P/E Ratio

Walmart’s P/E is 57.1 which is way above average (17.2) in the US market. With a bit of debt, but a lack of recent growth, it’s safe to say the market is expecting improved profit performance from the company, in the next few years.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. If the reality for a company is better than it expects, you can make money by buying and holding for the long term. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold they key to an excellent investment decision.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Walmart. 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. On rare occasion, data errors may occur. Thank you for reading.