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The past three years for Woolworths Group (ASX:WOW) investors has not been profitable

As an investor its worth striving to ensure your overall portfolio beats the market average. But in any portfolio, there are likely to be some stocks that fall short of that benchmark. Unfortunately, that's been the case for longer term Woolworths Group Limited (ASX:WOW) shareholders, since the share price is down 25% in the last three years, falling well short of the market return of around 24%.

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 Woolworths Group

To quote Buffett, 'Ships will sail around the world but the Flat Earth Society will flourish. There will continue to be wide discrepancies between price and value in the marketplace...' 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.

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Woolworths Group saw its share price decline over the three years in which its EPS also dropped, falling to a loss. This was, in part, due to extraordinary items impacting earnings. Due to the loss, it's not easy to use EPS as a reliable guide to the business. However, we can say we'd expect to see a falling share price in this scenario.

The graphic below depicts how EPS has changed over time (unveil the exact values by clicking on the image).

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

It might be well worthwhile taking a look at our free report on Woolworths Group's earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What About Dividends?

It is important to consider the total shareholder return, as well as the share price return, for any given stock. 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. So for companies that pay a generous dividend, the TSR is often a lot higher than the share price return. As it happens, Woolworths Group's TSR for the last 3 years was -4.0%, which exceeds the share price return mentioned earlier. This is largely a result of its dividend payments!

A Different Perspective

Woolworths Group shareholders are down 15% for the year (even including dividends), but the market itself is up 13%. Even the share prices of good stocks drop sometimes, but we want to see improvements in the fundamental metrics of a business, before getting too interested. On the bright side, long term shareholders have made money, with a gain of 6% per year over half a decade. If the fundamental data continues to indicate long term sustainable growth, the current sell-off could be an opportunity worth considering. 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. Take risks, for example - Woolworths Group has 2 warning signs (and 1 which is concerning) we think you should know about.

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 Australian 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.