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Wesfarmers' (ASX:WES) investors will be pleased with their favorable 58% return over the last three years

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By buying an index fund, you can roughly match the market return with ease. But if you pick the right individual stocks, you could make more than that. For example, the Wesfarmers Limited (ASX:WES) share price is up 37% in the last three years, clearly besting the market return of around 15% (not including dividends).

So let's assess the underlying fundamentals over the last 3 years and see if they've moved in lock-step with shareholder returns.

See our latest analysis for Wesfarmers

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 imperfect but simple way to consider how the market perception of a company has shifted is to compare the change in the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price movement.

During three years of share price growth, Wesfarmers achieved compound earnings per share growth of 6.6% per year. In comparison, the 11% per year gain in the share price outpaces the EPS growth. So it's fair to assume the market has a higher opinion of the business than it did three years ago. It is quite common to see investors become enamoured with a business, after a few years of solid progress.

The company's earnings per share (over time) is depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).

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

It's good to see that there was some significant insider buying in the last three months. That's a positive. On the other hand, we think the revenue and earnings trends are much more meaningful measures of the business. It might be well worthwhile taking a look at our free report on Wesfarmers' 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. It's fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. We note that for Wesfarmers the TSR over the last 3 years was 58%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. This is largely a result of its dividend payments!

A Different Perspective

While the broader market gained around 5.6% in the last year, Wesfarmers shareholders lost 1.6% (even including dividends). 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. Longer term investors wouldn't be so upset, since they would have made 16%, each year, over five years. If the fundamental data continues to indicate long term sustainable growth, the current sell-off could be an opportunity worth considering. It's always interesting to track share price performance over the longer term. But to understand Wesfarmers better, we need to consider many other factors. Case in point: We've spotted 1 warning sign for Wesfarmers you should be aware of.

There are plenty of other companies that have insiders buying up shares. You probably do not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on AU 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.

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