Norfolk Southern's (NYSE:NSC) investors will be pleased with their impressive 142% return over the last five years

·3 min read

The most you can lose on any stock (assuming you don't use leverage) is 100% of your money. But on the bright side, you can make far more than 100% on a really good stock. Long term Norfolk Southern Corporation (NYSE:NSC) shareholders would be well aware of this, since the stock is up 120% in five years. The last week saw the share price soften some 2.5%.

Let's take a look at the underlying fundamentals over the longer term, and see if they've been consistent with shareholders returns.

Check out our latest analysis for Norfolk Southern

While the efficient markets hypothesis continues to be taught by some, it has been proven that markets are over-reactive dynamic systems, and investors are not always rational. 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, Norfolk Southern achieved compound earnings per share (EPS) growth of 17% per year. This EPS growth is remarkably close to the 17% average annual increase in the share price. That suggests that the market sentiment around the company hasn't changed much over that time. Rather, the share price has approximately tracked EPS growth.

The company's earnings per share (over time) is depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).

earnings-per-share-growth
earnings-per-share-growth

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. This free interactive report on Norfolk Southern's earnings, revenue and cash flow is a great place to start, if you want to investigate the stock further.

What About Dividends?

It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. The TSR is a return calculation that accounts for the value of cash dividends (assuming that any dividend received was reinvested) and the calculated value of any discounted capital raisings and spin-offs. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. In the case of Norfolk Southern, it has a TSR of 142% for the last 5 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. The dividends paid by the company have thusly boosted the total shareholder return.

A Different Perspective

We regret to report that Norfolk Southern shareholders are down 12% for the year (even including dividends). Unfortunately, that's worse than the broader market decline of 9.0%. Having said that, it's inevitable that some stocks will be oversold in a falling market. The key is to keep your eyes on the fundamental developments. Longer term investors wouldn't be so upset, since they would have made 19%, each year, over five years. If the fundamental data continues to indicate long term sustainable growth, the current sell-off could be an opportunity worth considering. It's always interesting to track share price performance over the longer term. But to understand Norfolk Southern better, we need to consider many other factors. Consider risks, for instance. Every company has them, and we've spotted 2 warning signs for Norfolk Southern you should know about.

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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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.