Do You Know What Capital One Financial Corporation’s (NYSE:COF) P/E Ratio Means?

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This article is written for those who want to get better at using price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We’ll look at Capital One Financial Corporation’s (NYSE:COF) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company’s share price. Based on the last twelve months, Capital One Financial’s P/E ratio is 6.9. In other words, at today’s prices, investors are paying $6.9 for every $1 in prior year profit.

See our latest analysis for Capital One Financial

How Do I Calculate Capital One Financial’s Price To Earnings Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Capital One Financial:

P/E of 6.9 = $82.2 ÷ $11.92 (Based on the trailing twelve months to December 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. That is not a good or a bad thing per se, but a high P/E does imply buyers are optimistic about the future.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Earnings growth rates have a big influence on P/E ratios. That’s because companies that grow earnings per share quickly will rapidly increase the ‘E’ in the equation. That means even if the current P/E is high, it will reduce over time if the share price stays flat. A lower P/E should indicate the stock is cheap relative to others — and that may attract buyers.

Notably, Capital One Financial grew EPS by a whopping 214% in the last year. And it has improved its earnings per share by 5.5% per year over the last three years. I’d therefore be a little surprised if its P/E ratio was not relatively high.

How Does Capital One Financial’s P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

The P/E ratio essentially measures market expectations of a company. The image below shows that Capital One Financial has a lower P/E than the average (10.5) P/E for companies in the consumer finance industry.

NYSE:COF PE PEG Gauge February 20th 19
NYSE:COF PE PEG Gauge February 20th 19

Capital One Financial’s P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. While current expectations are low, the stock could be undervalued if the situation is better than the market assumes. You should delve deeper. I like to check if company insiders have been buying or selling.

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

Don’t forget that the P/E ratio considers market capitalization. In other words, it does not consider any debt or cash that the company may have on the balance sheet. 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).

Capital One Financial’s Balance Sheet

Net debt totals a substantial 119% of Capital One Financial’s market cap. This level of debt justifies a relatively low P/E, so remain cognizant of the debt, if you’re comparing it to other stocks.

The Verdict On Capital One Financial’s P/E Ratio

Capital One Financial has a P/E of 6.9. That’s below the average in the US market, which is 17.4. The company has a meaningful amount of debt on the balance sheet, but that should not eclipse the solid earnings growth. If the company can continue to grow earnings, then the current P/E may be unjustifiably low.

Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. If it is underestimating a company, investors can make money by buying and holding the shares until the market corrects itself. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

But note: Capital One Financial 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).

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. Thank you for reading.