New Zealand Markets closed

Don't Sell Alleghany Corporation (NYSE:Y) Before You Read This

Simply Wall St

Want to participate in a short research study? Help shape the future of investing tools and you could win a $250 gift card!

This article is for investors who would like to improve their understanding of price to earnings ratios (P/E ratios). We'll look at Alleghany Corporation's (NYSE:Y) P/E ratio and reflect on what it tells us about the company's share price. Looking at earnings over the last twelve months, Alleghany has a P/E ratio of 33.05. That corresponds to an earnings yield of approximately 3.0%.

Check out our latest analysis for Alleghany

How Do You Calculate A P/E Ratio?

The formula for P/E is:

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

Or for Alleghany:

P/E of 33.05 = $686.52 ÷ $20.77 (Based on the trailing twelve months to March 2019.)

Is A High Price-to-Earnings Ratio Good?

The higher the P/E ratio, the higher the price tag of a business, relative to its trailing earnings. 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

When earnings fall, the 'E' decreases, over time. Therefore, even if you pay a low multiple of earnings now, that multiple will become higher in the future. A higher P/E should indicate the stock is expensive relative to others -- and that may encourage shareholders to sell.

Alleghany's 184% EPS improvement over the last year was like bamboo growth after rain; rapid and impressive. Unfortunately, earnings per share are down 11% a year, over 5 years.

Does Alleghany Have A Relatively High Or Low P/E For Its Industry?

We can get an indication of market expectations by looking at the P/E ratio. You can see in the image below that the average P/E (17.6) for companies in the insurance industry is lower than Alleghany's P/E.

NYSE:Y Price Estimation Relative to Market, June 21st 2019

That means that the market expects Alleghany will outperform other companies in its industry. 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.

Don't Forget: The P/E Does Not Account For Debt or Bank Deposits

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. So it won't reflect the advantage of cash, or disadvantage of debt. In theory, a company can lower its future P/E ratio by using cash or debt to invest in growth.

Such expenditure might be good or bad, in the long term, but the point here is that the balance sheet is not reflected by this ratio.

Is Debt Impacting Alleghany's P/E?

Alleghany has net cash of US$374m. That should lead to a higher P/E than if it did have debt, because its strong balance sheets gives it more options.

The Verdict On Alleghany's P/E Ratio

Alleghany trades on a P/E ratio of 33, which is above the US market average of 18. Its net cash position is the cherry on top of its superb EPS growth. To us, this is the sort of company that we would expect to carry an above average price tag (relative to earnings).

When the market is wrong about a stock, it gives savvy investors an opportunity. People often underestimate remarkable growth -- so investors can make money when fast growth is not fully appreciated. So this free visual report on analyst forecasts could hold the key to an excellent investment decision.

Of course you might be able to find a better stock than Alleghany. 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.