Norfolk Southern Corporation's (NYSE:NSC) price-to-earnings (or "P/E") ratio of 19.3x might make it look like a sell right now compared to the market in the United States, where around half of the companies have P/E ratios below 14x and even P/E's below 8x are quite common. Although, it's not wise to just take the P/E at face value as there may be an explanation why it's lofty.
Recent times have been advantageous for Norfolk Southern as its earnings have been rising faster than most other companies. It seems that many are expecting the strong earnings performance to persist, which has raised the P/E. If not, then existing shareholders might be a little nervous about the viability of the share price.
Keen to find out how analysts think Norfolk Southern's future stacks up against the industry? In that case, our free report is a great place to start.
Is There Enough Growth For Norfolk Southern?
The only time you'd be truly comfortable seeing a P/E as high as Norfolk Southern's is when the company's growth is on track to outshine the market.
Taking a look back first, we see that the company grew earnings per share by an impressive 17% last year. EPS has also lifted 29% in aggregate from three years ago, mostly thanks to the last 12 months of growth. Therefore, it's fair to say the earnings growth recently has been respectable for the company.
Shifting to the future, estimates from the analysts covering the company suggest earnings should grow by 6.4% per annum over the next three years. That's shaping up to be materially lower than the 9.0% each year growth forecast for the broader market.
In light of this, it's alarming that Norfolk Southern's P/E sits above the majority of other companies. Apparently many investors in the company are way more bullish than analysts indicate and aren't willing to let go of their stock at any price. There's a good chance these shareholders are setting themselves up for future disappointment if the P/E falls to levels more in line with the growth outlook.
What We Can Learn From Norfolk Southern's P/E?
While the price-to-earnings ratio shouldn't be the defining factor in whether you buy a stock or not, it's quite a capable barometer of earnings expectations.
Our examination of Norfolk Southern's analyst forecasts revealed that its inferior earnings outlook isn't impacting its high P/E anywhere near as much as we would have predicted. Right now we are increasingly uncomfortable with the high P/E as the predicted future earnings aren't likely to support such positive sentiment for long. This places shareholders' investments at significant risk and potential investors in danger of paying an excessive premium.
You should always think about risks. Case in point, we've spotted 1 warning sign for Norfolk Southern you should be aware of.
If these risks are making you reconsider your opinion on Norfolk Southern, explore our interactive list of high quality stocks to get an idea of what else is out there.
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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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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