Despite Its High P/E Ratio, Is ALS Limited (ASX:ALQ) Still Undervalued?

Simply Wall St

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 ALS Limited's (ASX:ALQ) P/E ratio could help you assess the value on offer. ALS has a price to earnings ratio of 21.05, based on the last twelve months. That means that at current prices, buyers pay A$21.05 for every A$1 in trailing yearly profits.

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How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for ALS:

P/E of 21.05 = A$7.21 ÷ A$0.34 (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

A higher P/E ratio means that buyers have to pay a higher price for each A$1 the company has earned over the last year. That isn't a good or a bad thing on its own, but a high P/E means that buyers have a higher opinion of the business's prospects, relative to stocks with a lower P/E.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

Generally speaking the rate of earnings growth has a profound impact on a company's P/E multiple. When earnings grow, the 'E' increases, over time. 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.

ALS's earnings made like a rocket, taking off 161% last year. Unfortunately, earnings per share are down 3.2% a year, over 5 years.

How Does ALS's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

One good way to get a quick read on what market participants expect of a company is to look at its P/E ratio. The image below shows that ALS has a higher P/E than the average (17.7) P/E for companies in the professional services industry.

ASX:ALQ Price Estimation Relative to Market, May 22nd 2019

Its relatively high P/E ratio indicates that ALS shareholders think it will perform better than other companies in its industry classification. 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.

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

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. The exact same company would hypothetically deserve a higher P/E ratio if it had a strong balance sheet, than if it had a weak one with lots of debt, because a cashed up company can spend on growth.

Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.

ALS's Balance Sheet

Net debt totals 17% of ALS's 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 Bottom Line On ALS's P/E Ratio

ALS's P/E is 21 which is above average (16) in the AU market. While the company does use modest debt, its recent earnings growth is superb. So on this analysis a high P/E ratio seems reasonable.

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 visualization of the analyst consensus on future earnings could help you make the right decision about whether to buy, sell, or hold.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than ALS. 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. Thank you for reading.