Costco Wholesale Corporation's (NASDAQ:COST) price-to-earnings (or "P/E") ratio of 35.8x might make it look like a strong sell right now compared to the market in the United States, where around half of the companies have P/E ratios below 13x and even P/E's below 7x 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 so lofty.
With earnings growth that's superior to most other companies of late, Costco Wholesale has been doing relatively well. The P/E is probably high because investors think this strong earnings performance will continue. If not, then existing shareholders might be a little nervous about the viability of the share price.
If you'd like to see what analysts are forecasting going forward, you should check out our free report on Costco Wholesale.
Does Growth Match The High P/E?
Costco Wholesale's P/E ratio would be typical for a company that's expected to deliver very strong growth, and importantly, perform much better than the market.
Retrospectively, the last year delivered an exceptional 17% gain to the company's bottom line. The latest three year period has also seen an excellent 59% overall rise in EPS, aided by its short-term performance. So we can start by confirming that the company has done a great job of growing earnings over that time.
Shifting to the future, estimates from the analysts covering the company suggest earnings should grow by 11% each year over the next three years. That's shaping up to be similar to the 9.6% per year growth forecast for the broader market.
In light of this, it's curious that Costco Wholesale's P/E sits above the majority of other companies. Apparently many investors in the company are more bullish than analysts indicate and aren't willing to let go of their stock right now. These shareholders may be setting themselves up for disappointment if the P/E falls to levels more in line with the growth outlook.
What We Can Learn From Costco Wholesale's P/E?
Typically, we'd caution against reading too much into price-to-earnings ratios when settling on investment decisions, though it can reveal plenty about what other market participants think about the company.
We've established that Costco Wholesale currently trades on a higher than expected P/E since its forecast growth is only in line with the wider market. Right now we are uncomfortable with the relatively high share price as the predicted future earnings aren't likely to support such positive sentiment for long. Unless these conditions improve, it's challenging to accept these prices as being reasonable.
It's always necessary to consider the ever-present spectre of investment risk. We've identified 1 warning sign with Costco Wholesale, and understanding should be part of your investment process.
You might be able to find a better investment than Costco Wholesale. If you want a selection of possible candidates, check out this free list of interesting companies that trade on a P/E below 20x (but have proven they can grow earnings).
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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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