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Western Digital (NASDAQ:WDC) shares have had a really impressive month, gaining 35%, after some slippage. But shareholders may not all be feeling jubilant, since the share price is still down 37% in the last year.
All else being equal, a sharp share price increase should make a stock less attractive to potential investors. In the long term, share prices tend to follow earnings per share, but in the short term prices bounce around in response to short term factors (which are not always obvious). So some would prefer to hold off buying when there is a lot of optimism towards a stock. Perhaps the simplest way to get a read on investors’ expectations of a business is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E ratio means that investors have a high expectation about future growth, while a low P/E ratio means they have low expectations about future growth.
Does Western Digital Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?
Western Digital’s P/E of 73.49 indicates some degree of optimism towards the stock. The image below shows that Western Digital has a significantly higher P/E than the average (18.4) P/E for companies in the tech industry.
That means that the market expects Western Digital will outperform other companies in its industry.
How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios
Companies that shrink earnings per share quickly will rapidly decrease the ‘E’ in the equation. That means even if the current P/E is low, it will increase over time if the share price stays flat. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.
Western Digital had pretty flat EPS growth in the last year. And over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have decreased 31% annually. So it would be surprising to see a high P/E.
Don’t Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits
It’s important to note that the P/E ratio considers the market capitalization, not the enterprise value. That means it doesn’t take debt or cash into account. Hypothetically, a company could reduce its future P/E ratio by spending its cash (or taking on debt) to achieve higher earnings.
While growth expenditure doesn’t always pay off, the point is that it is a good option to have; but one that the P/E ratio ignores.
How Does Western Digital’s Debt Impact Its P/E Ratio?
Western Digital’s net debt equates to 47% of its market capitalization. You’d want to be aware of this fact, but it doesn’t bother us.
The Bottom Line On Western Digital’s P/E Ratio
With a P/E ratio of 73.5, Western Digital is expected to grow earnings very strongly in the years to come. 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. What we know for sure is that investors have become much more excited about Western Digital recently, since they have pushed its P/E ratio from 54.4 to 73.5 over the last month. For those who prefer to invest with the flow of momentum, that might mean it’s time to put the stock on a watchlist, or research it. But the contrarian may see it as a missed opportunity.
Investors should be looking to buy stocks that the market is wrong about. 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 report on the analyst consensus forecasts could help you make a master move on this stock.
You might be able to find a better buy than Western Digital. If you want a selection of possible winners, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20 (but have proven they can grow earnings).
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.