When you buy shares in a company, it's worth keeping in mind the possibility that it could fail, and you could lose your money. But on a lighter note, a good company can see its share price rise well over 100%. One great example is American Water Works Company, Inc. (NYSE:AWK) which saw its share price drive 160% higher over five years. On top of that, the share price is up 11% in about a quarter. But this move may well have been assisted by the reasonably buoyant market (up 8.4% in 90 days).
There is no denying that markets are sometimes efficient, but prices do not always reflect underlying business performance. One imperfect but simple way to consider how the market perception of a company has shifted is to compare the change in the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price movement.
During five years of share price growth, American Water Works Company achieved compound earnings per share (EPS) growth of 6.9% per year. This EPS growth is lower than the 21% average annual increase in the share price. This suggests that market participants hold the company in higher regard, these days. And that's hardly shocking given the track record of growth.
You can see below how EPS has changed over time (discover the exact values by clicking on the image).
We consider it positive that insiders have made significant purchases in the last year. Even so, future earnings will be far more important to whether current shareholders make money. Before buying or selling a stock, we always recommend a close examination of historic growth trends, available here..
What About Dividends?
As well as measuring the share price return, investors should also consider the total shareholder return (TSR). 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. In the case of American Water Works Company, it has a TSR of 186% for the last 5 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!
A Different Perspective
American Water Works Company shareholders have received returns of 19% over twelve months (even including dividends), which isn't far from the general market return. We should note here that the five-year TSR is more impressive, at 23% per year. Although the share price growth has slowed, the longer term story points to a business well worth watching. I find it very interesting to look at share price over the long term as a proxy for business performance. But to truly gain insight, we need to consider other information, too. Consider for instance, the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We've identified 2 warning signs with American Water Works Company (at least 1 which doesn't sit too well with us) , and understanding them should be part of your investment process.
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.
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What are the risks and opportunities for American Water Works Company?
Earnings are forecast to grow 8.12% per year
Debt is not well covered by operating cash flow
Shareholders have been diluted in the past year
Profit margins (22.3%) are lower than last year (34.6%)
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. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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