In order to justify the effort of selecting individual stocks, it's worth striving to beat the returns from a market index fund. But in any portfolio, there are likely to be some stocks that fall short of that benchmark. We regret to report that long term Hays plc (LON:HAS) shareholders have had that experience, with the share price dropping 26% in three years, versus a market return of about -5.6%. In the last ninety days we've seen the share price slide 29%. But this could be related to the weak market, which is down 17% in the same period.
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 way to examine how market sentiment has changed over time is to look at the interaction between a company's share price and its earnings per share (EPS).
Although the share price is down over three years, Hays actually managed to grow EPS by 3.0% per year in that time. Given the share price reaction, one might suspect that EPS is not a good guide to the business performance during the period (perhaps due to a one-off loss or gain). Or else the company was over-hyped in the past, and so its growth has disappointed.
After considering the numbers, we'd posit that the the market had higher expectations of EPS growth, three years back. But it's possible a look at other metrics will be enlightening.
Given the healthiness of the dividend payments, we doubt that they've concerned the market. We like that Hays has actually grown its revenue over the last three years. But it's not clear to us why the share price is down. It might be worth diving deeper into the fundamentals, lest an opportunity goes begging.
The graphic below depicts how earnings and revenue have changed over time (unveil the exact values by clicking on the image).
Hays is a well known stock, with plenty of analyst coverage, suggesting some visibility into future growth. So it makes a lot of sense to check out what analysts think Hays will earn in the future (free analyst consensus estimates)
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. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. We note that for Hays the TSR over the last 3 years was -14%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!
A Different Perspective
We regret to report that Hays shareholders are down 17% for the year (even including dividends) . Unfortunately, that's worse than the broader market decline of 10%. However, it could simply be that the share price has been impacted by broader market jitters. It might be worth keeping an eye on the fundamentals, in case there's a good opportunity. Unfortunately, last year's performance may indicate unresolved challenges, given that it was worse than the annualised loss of 1.9% over the last half decade. We realise that Baron Rothschild has said investors should "buy when there is blood on the streets", but we caution that investors should first be sure they are buying a high quality business. While it is well worth considering the different impacts that market conditions can have on the share price, there are other factors that are even more important. To that end, you should be aware of the 2 warning signs we've spotted with Hays .
Of course, you might find a fantastic investment by looking elsewhere. So take a peek at this free list of companies we expect will grow earnings.
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on GB exchanges.
If you spot an error that warrants correction, please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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