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Those who invested in American Water Works Company (NYSE:AWK) five years ago are up 82%

Stock pickers are generally looking for stocks that will outperform the broader market. Buying under-rated businesses is one path to excess returns. For example, the American Water Works Company, Inc. (NYSE:AWK) share price is up 67% in the last 5 years, clearly besting the market return of around 46% (ignoring dividends).

With that in mind, it's worth seeing if the company's underlying fundamentals have been the driver of long term performance, or if there are some discrepancies.

View our latest analysis for American Water Works Company

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, American Water Works Company achieved compound earnings per share (EPS) growth of 20% per year. This EPS growth is higher than the 11% average annual increase in the share price. So one could conclude that the broader market has become more cautious towards the stock.

You can see how EPS has changed over time in the image below (click on the chart to see the exact values).

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

We're pleased to report that the CEO is remunerated more modestly than most CEOs at similarly capitalized companies. But while CEO remuneration is always worth checking, the really important question is whether the company can grow earnings going forward. Dive deeper into the earnings by checking this interactive graph of American Water Works Company's earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What About Dividends?

When looking at investment returns, it is important to consider the difference between total shareholder return (TSR) and share price return. 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. It's fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. As it happens, American Water Works Company's TSR for the last 5 years was 82%, which exceeds the share price return mentioned earlier. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!

A Different Perspective

Although it hurts that American Water Works Company returned a loss of 11% in the last twelve months, the broader market was actually worse, returning a loss of 19%. Longer term investors wouldn't be so upset, since they would have made 13%, each year, over five years. It could be that the business is just facing some short term problems, but shareholders should keep a close eye on the fundamentals. It's always interesting to track share price performance over the longer term. But to understand American Water Works Company better, we need to consider many other factors. Like risks, for instance. Every company has them, and we've spotted 3 warning signs for American Water Works Company (of which 1 is a bit unpleasant!) you should know about.

For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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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