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Generally speaking the aim of active stock picking is to find companies that provide returns that are superior to the market average. And the truth is, you can make significant gains if you buy good quality businesses at the right price. To wit, the Quest Diagnostics share price has climbed 70% in five years, easily topping the market return of 46% (ignoring dividends).
In his essay The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville Warren Buffett described how share prices do not always rationally reflect the value of a business. One flawed but reasonable way to assess how sentiment around a company has changed is to compare the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price.
During five years of share price growth, Quest Diagnostics actually saw its EPS drop 0.2% per year. So it’s hard to argue that the earnings per share are the best metric to judge the company, as it may not be optimized for profits at this point. Since the change in EPS doesn’t seem to correlate with the change in share price, it’s worth taking a look at other metrics.
The revenue growth of 0.5% per year hardly seems impressive. So it seems one might have to take closer look at earnings and revenue trends to see how they might influence the share price.
The chart below shows how revenue and earnings have changed with time, (if you click on the chart you can see the actual values).
Quest Diagnostics is well known by investors, and plenty of clever analysts have tried to predict the future profit levels. So we recommend checking out this free report showing consensus forecasts
What About Dividends?
It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. So for companies that pay a generous dividend, the TSR is often a lot higher than the share price return. As it happens, Quest Diagnostics’s TSR for the last 5 years was 89%, which exceeds the share price return mentioned earlier. This is largely a result of its dividend payments!
A Different Perspective
Quest Diagnostics shareholders are down 1.6% for the year (even including dividends), but the market itself is up 6.3%. However, keep in mind that even the best stocks will sometimes underperform the market over a twelve month period. On the bright side, long term shareholders have made money, with a gain of 14% per year over half a decade. It could be that the recent sell-off is an opportunity, so it may be worth checking the fundamental data for signs of a long term growth trend. Most investors take the time to check the data on insider transactions. You can click here to see if insiders have been buying or selling.
If you like to buy stocks alongside management, then you might just love this free list of companies. (Hint: insiders have been buying them).Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.
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 email@example.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.