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A Sliding Share Price Has Us Looking At WPP plc's (LON:WPP) P/E Ratio

Simply Wall St

Unfortunately for some shareholders, the WPP (LON:WPP) share price has dived 34% in the last thirty days. The recent drop has obliterated the annual return, with the share price now down 25% over that longer period.

All else being equal, a share price drop should make a stock more attractive to potential investors. While the market sentiment towards a stock is very changeable, in the long run, the share price will tend to move in the same direction as earnings per share. So, on certain occasions, long term focussed investors try to take advantage of pessimistic expectations to buy shares at a better price. Perhaps the simplest way to get a read on investors' expectations of a business is to look at its Price to Earnings Ratio (PE Ratio). A high P/E implies that investors have high expectations of what a company can achieve compared to a company with a low P/E ratio.

See our latest analysis for WPP

How Does WPP's P/E Ratio Compare To Its Peers?

WPP's P/E of 12.76 indicates relatively low sentiment towards the stock. If you look at the image below, you can see WPP has a lower P/E than the average (18.9) in the media industry classification.

LSE:WPP Price Estimation Relative to Market, March 12th 2020

WPP's P/E tells us that market participants think it will not fare as well as its peers in the same industry. Since the market seems unimpressed with WPP, it's quite possible it could surprise on the upside. It is arguably worth checking if insiders are buying shares, because that might imply they believe the stock is undervalued.

How Growth Rates Impact P/E Ratios

When earnings fall, the 'E' decreases, over time. That means unless the share price falls, the P/E will increase in a few years. So while a stock may look cheap based on past earnings, it could be expensive based on future earnings.

WPP saw earnings per share decrease by 41% last year. And over the longer term (5 years) earnings per share have decreased 9.4% annually. This could justify a pessimistic P/E.

Remember: P/E Ratios Don't Consider The Balance Sheet

One drawback of using a P/E ratio is that it considers market capitalization, but not the balance sheet. Thus, the metric does not reflect cash or debt held by the company. Theoretically, a business can improve its earnings (and produce a lower P/E in the future) by investing in growth. That means taking on debt (or spending its cash).

Such spending might be good or bad, overall, but the key point here is that you need to look at debt to understand the P/E ratio in context.

Is Debt Impacting WPP's P/E?

Net debt totals 20% of WPP's market cap. That's enough debt to impact the P/E ratio a little; so keep it in mind if you're comparing it to companies without debt.

The Verdict On WPP's P/E Ratio

WPP's P/E is 12.8 which is below average (15.1) in the GB market. Since it only carries a modest debt load, it's likely the low expectations implied by the P/E ratio arise from the lack of recent earnings growth. What can be absolutely certain is that the market has become significantly less optimistic about WPP over the last month, with the P/E ratio falling from 19.2 back then to 12.8 today. For those who don't like to trade against momentum, that could be a warning sign, but a contrarian investor might want to take a closer look.

Investors have an opportunity when market expectations about a stock are wrong. As value investor Benjamin Graham famously said, 'In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine. 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 WPP. So you may wish to see this free collection of other companies that have grown earnings strongly.

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.

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. Thank you for reading.