HCA Healthcare, Inc.'s (NYSE:HCA) price-to-earnings (or "P/E") ratio of 12.6x might make it look like a buy right now compared to the market in the United States, where around half of the companies have P/E ratios above 15x and even P/E's above 30x are quite common. Although, it's not wise to just take the P/E at face value as there may be an explanation why it's limited.
HCA Healthcare hasn't been tracking well recently as its declining earnings compare poorly to other companies, which have seen some growth on average. The P/E is probably low because investors think this poor earnings performance isn't going to get any better. If this is the case, then existing shareholders will probably struggle to get excited about the future direction of the share price.
If you'd like to see what analysts are forecasting going forward, you should check out our free report on HCA Healthcare.
Does Growth Match The Low P/E?
HCA Healthcare's P/E ratio would be typical for a company that's only expected to deliver limited growth, and importantly, perform worse than the market.
Taking a look back first, the company's earnings per share growth last year wasn't something to get excited about as it posted a disappointing decline of 9.0%. Even so, admirably EPS has lifted 86% in aggregate from three years ago, notwithstanding the last 12 months. Although it's been a bumpy ride, it's still fair to say the earnings growth recently has been more than adequate for the company.
Looking ahead now, EPS is anticipated to climb by 8.5% per annum during the coming three years according to the analysts following the company. Meanwhile, the rest of the market is forecast to expand by 9.1% each year, which is not materially different.
In light of this, it's peculiar that HCA Healthcare's P/E sits below the majority of other companies. It may be that most investors are not convinced the company can achieve future growth expectations.
The Final Word
We'd say the price-to-earnings ratio's power isn't primarily as a valuation instrument but rather to gauge current investor sentiment and future expectations.
We've established that HCA Healthcare currently trades on a lower than expected P/E since its forecast growth is in line with the wider market. When we see an average earnings outlook with market-like growth, we assume potential risks are what might be placing pressure on the P/E ratio. It appears some are indeed anticipating earnings instability, because these conditions should normally provide more support to the share price.
And what about other risks? Every company has them, and we've spotted 3 warning signs for HCA Healthcare (of which 1 can't be ignored!) you should know about.
If you're unsure about the strength of HCA Healthcare's business, why not explore our interactive list of stocks with solid business fundamentals for some other companies you may have missed.
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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.
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