by Megan Stals

What is a good P/E ratio for stocks?

The price to earnings ratio is one of the key metrics used for investors worldwide. Learn what is a good P/E ratio, how and when to use this metric.

What is a good P/E ratio?

A good P/E ratio typically ranges from 15 to 25, aligning with market averages. However, different industries and growth companies might have higher ratios due to future earnings potential. Analyzing a company's P/E ratio relative to its history, industry peers, and the market provides context for assessing its investment appeal.

There are different types of P/E ratios and whether they are good or not varies based on a company's industry and market conditions. Generally, a lower ratio suggests an undervalued stock, while a higher ratio indicates potential overvaluation. Consider industry norms, expected growth and prospects, and financial health when assessing a P/E ratio's significance.

It's crucial to note that the P/E ratio should not be the sole determinant when conducting research stocks and making investment decisions. Other factors such as the company's financial stability, competitive position, management quality, and future growth prospects should be considered alongside the P/E ratio to gain a comprehensive understanding of a stock's investment potential. Additionally, macroeconomic conditions and market sentiment can also influence P/E ratios, making it important to interpret the ratio within the broader market context.

If you are new to investing, you're probably asking - What is a price-to-earnings ratio?

The price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is a financial metric used to assess the relative value of a stock. It is calculated by dividing the market price per share by the earnings per share (EPS) of a company. The P/E ratio provides investors with insight into how much they are paying for each dollar of the company's earnings.

A low P/E ratio suggests that the stock may be undervalued, meaning investors are paying less for each dollar of earnings. This could indicate a potential buying opportunity.

A high P/E ratio may imply that the stock is overvalued, as investors are paying a premium for each dollar of forward earnings. This could signal caution or indicate that the market has high expectations for future growth.

How to know if a stock has a good or bad P/E ratio?

Determining whether a stock has a good or bad P/E ratio requires considering several factors and comparing it with relevant benchmarks. Some important points to keep in mind whenever assessing a stock's P/E ratio are:

  • Industry comparison: Compare the stock's P/E ratio to the average P/E ratios of companies in the same industry. This provides a better context for evaluating whether the stock's ratio is higher or lower than its peers.
  • Historical comparison: Examine the stock's P/E ratio over time. Compare its current ratio to its historical range to identify any significant deviations. This can help determine if the current ratio is relatively high or low compared to the stock's own valuation history.
  • Market and economic conditions: Consider the broader market and economic conditions. During a bearish market or economic downturn, lower P/E ratios may be more common, while higher P/E ratios may be prevalent during a bullish market. Assessing the ratio within the market context is crucial.
  • Growth prospects: Evaluate the company's growth potential. High-growth companies often have higher P/E ratios due to their expected future earnings growth. If a company is in a growth phase and has a high P/E ratio, it might be justified if its growth prospects are strong.
  • Comparable companies: Compare the P/E ratio of the stock with other companies of similar size, business model, and growth trajectory. This analysis helps determine if the stock's P/E ratio is reasonable compared to similar investment opportunities.

It's important to note that a good or bad P/E ratio is subjective and can vary depending on the investor's strategy, risk tolerance, and investment objectives. The P/E ratio should be used as a starting point for analysis, and it should be supplemented with a comprehensive evaluation of the company's financials, industry trends, competitive landscape, and future prospects to make a well-informed investment decision.

💡Related: Follow these steps on how to compare stocks

How to calculate the P/E ratio formula?

The formula to calculate the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of a stock is straightforward. It is obtained by dividing the company's share price by the earnings per share (EPS) of the company. The P/E ratio formula can be calculated by:

P/E ratio = Market Price per Share / Earnings per Share

To illustrate with an example, let's consider a widely known technology company Apple ($AAPL):

As of the writing of this article, the current share price per share of $AAPL is $183.96, and the earnings per share (EPS) for the company is $5.88.

P/E ratio for AAPL = $183.96 (Market Price per Share) / $5 .88 (Earnings per Share) = 31.28

In this case, the P/E ratio for AAPL would be 31.28.

One can also calculate the P/E ratio by inverting the earnings yield.

P/E ratio formula

Types of P/E ratio

There are different types of price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios,using past or future earnings projections, each providing a slightly different perspective on a stock's valuation. Two common types are trailing P/E ratio and forward P/E ratio, while another distinction can be made between absolute P/E ratio and relative P/E ratio.

Types of P/E ratio


Trailing P/E ratio

The trailing P/E ratio is calculated using historical earnings data. It compares the current market price per share to the earnings per share (EPS) from the previous twelve months. It reflects the company's past performance and is commonly used to assess the stock's valuation based on its historical earnings.

Forward P/E ratio

The forward P/E ratio is calculated using estimated future earnings expectations. It compares the current market price per share to the expected earnings per share for the upcoming twelve months. It provides insight into market expectations and is often used to assess the company's valuation based on anticipated future earnings.

Absolute P/E ratio

The absolute P/E ratio compares the P/E ratio of a specific stock to an absolute benchmark or a predetermined acceptable range. For example, an investor may consider a P/E ratio below 20 as acceptable for investment based on their criteria, regardless of the industry or market conditions.

Relative P/E ratio

The relative P/E ratio compares the P/E ratio of a specific stock to the P/E ratios of other companies in the same industry or the overall market. This approach provides a relative assessment of the stock's valuation compared to its peers or the broader market. It helps investors determine if the stock is relatively undervalued or overvalued in comparison.

Both trailing and forward P/E ratios have their merits. Trailing P/E ratios provide a historical perspective, reflecting past earnings, while forward P/E ratios offer a glimpse into market expectations and future earnings potential.

Absolute P/E ratios establish specific thresholds for valuation, while relative P/E ratios provide a comparative analysis against industry or market peers. Investors may consider using a combination of these P/E ratios to gain a more comprehensive understanding of a stock's valuation.

What does P/E ratio tell an investor about a stock?

The price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio provides valuable insights to investors about a company's stock price valuation and can indicate several aspects of the company's financial health and market perception, such as:

  • Valuation: The P/E ratio helps investors assess whether a stock is overvalued or undervalued. A lower P/E ratio suggests that the stock may be relatively undervalued, potentially presenting a buying opportunity. Conversely, a higher P/E ratio may indicate that the stock is potentially overvalued, warranting caution.
  • Earnings growth: A higher P/E ratio may imply that the market has high expectations for future earnings growth. Investors are willing to pay a premium for each dollar of earnings, anticipating that the company's earnings will increase in the future. Conversely, a lower P/E ratio may suggest that the market has lower growth expectations.
  • Risk perception: The P/E ratio can reflect market sentiment and risk perception. A higher P/E ratio might indicate that investors are willing to take on more risk, possibly due to expectations of future growth. Conversely, a lower P/E ratio might indicate that investors perceive higher risk associated with the stock.
  • Comparison: Comparing a stock's P/E ratio to other companies in the same industry or the overall market can provide a relative valuation assessment. It helps investors understand how the stock is priced compared to its peers and the broader market.
  • Investment horizon: The P/E ratio, particularly the forward P/E ratio, offers insights into market expectations for future earnings. It helps investors with different investment horizons assess the stock's attractiveness, whether they are looking for short-term gains or long-term investment opportunities.
  • Market conditions: The P/E ratio can also reflect broader market conditions. During bearish market periods, lower P/E ratios may be more common, while higher P/E ratios may prevail during bullish markets. Understanding the market context is crucial when interpreting the P/E ratio.

While the P/E ratio provides valuable information, it should not be the sole factor driving investment decisions. Other fundamental analysis, such as financial health, growth prospects, industry trends, and management quality, should also be considered alongside the P/E ratio to make well-informed investment choices.

🎓 Learn more: What is the difference between a bull vs bear market?

Can price-to-earnings ratio be a misleading metric?

Yes, the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio can be a misleading metric if used in isolation or without considering other factors, as financial markets are extremely dynamic. Here are some reasons why the P/E ratio may not provide a complete picture:

  • Earnings quality: The P/E ratio relies on earnings per share (EPS), which can be influenced by various accounting practices. Companies can manipulate their earnings through techniques such as aggressive revenue recognition or adjusting expenses. Therefore, it's important to evaluate the quality and sustainability of the earnings used in the P/E ratio calculation.
  • Industry differences: Different industries have varying profitability and growth patterns. Comparing P/E ratios of companies across industries without considering their specific dynamics can lead to inaccurate conclusions. For instance, high-growth industries may have higher P/E ratios, reflecting their potential for future earnings growth.
  • Cyclical nature: Certain industries are cyclical, experiencing periods of high and low earnings. During a downturn, companies in these industries may have low or negative earnings, resulting in inflated P/E ratios. Conversely, during boom times, their earnings may be high, leading to seemingly attractive P/E ratios. Understanding the industry cycle is crucial for interpreting P/E ratios accurately.
  • One-time events: Extraordinary events such as mergers, acquisitions, or legal settlements can distort a company's earnings for a particular period. If the P/E ratio calculation includes such one-time events, it may not reflect the company's underlying earnings power accurately, as it inflates earnings.
  • Growth prospects: P/E ratios do not account for a company's future growth potential. A high-growth company may have a higher P/E ratio due to investors' expectations of future earnings growth. Focusing solely on the P/E ratio without considering growth prospects may lead to misinterpretation.
  • Market sentiment: P/E ratios can be influenced by market sentiment, investor psychology, and market conditions. During market bubbles or euphoric periods, stocks may have inflated P/E ratios, potentially leading to overvaluation. Conversely, during market downturns or pessimistic sentiment, stocks may have lower P/E ratios, potentially creating undervaluation.

To overcome these limitations, it's important to consider the P/E ratio alongside other financial metrics, industry analysis, company fundamentals, growth prospects, and market conditions. A comprehensive evaluation provides a more accurate assessment of a stock's investment potential.

What are some other metrics investors should measure?

Here are some important metrics that investors commonly use to evaluate sectors and stocks using relative valuations:

  • Earnings Per Share (EPS)
  • Price/Sales Ratio (P/S)
  • Price/Book Ratio (P/B)
  • Dividend Yield
  • Return on Equity (ROE)
  • Return on Assets (ROA)
  • Debt-to-Equity Ratio
  • Current Ratio
  • Free Cash Flow
  • Gross Margin
  • Operating Margin
  • Net Profit Margin
  • Revenue Growth Rate
  • Earnings Growth Rate
  • Price/Cash Flow Ratio
  • Price/Earnings to Growth (PEG) Ratio
  • Market Capitalisation

These metrics provide insights into various aspects of a company's financial health, profitability, growth potential, efficiency, and market valuation. It's important to use a combination of these metrics and consider industry benchmarks, historical trends, growth opportunities, and other relevant factors to gain a comprehensive understanding of a company's future performance and valuation.

Frequently asked questions about P/E ratio

What is the difference between P/E ratio and PEG ratio?

The P/E ratio (price-to-earnings ratio) compares a company's current stock price to its earnings per share (EPS), providing insight into its valuation. The PEG ratio (price/earnings to growth ratio) takes into account a company's P/E ratio and its projected earnings growth rate, offering a more comprehensive assessment of its valuation relative to its growth prospects. The PEG ratio helps investors determine if a stock's P/E ratio is justified based on its expected earnings growth.

How do industry P/E ratios work?

Industry P/E ratios reflect the average or typical price-to-earnings ratios of companies within a specific industry. They provide a benchmark for evaluating a company's P/E ratio in comparison to its industry peers. Investors use industry P/E ratios to assess whether a company's P/E ratio is relatively high or low compared to the industry average, helping them gauge the stock's valuation within its specific sector.

What does it mean if a stock has a high P/E ratio?

If a stock has a high price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, it typically indicates that investors are willing to pay a premium for each dollar of earnings. This may suggest that the market has high expectations for the company's future growth and profitability. However, it can also imply that the stock is potentially overvalued, so caution and further analysis are necessary to assess its investment potential.

Portrait photo of Megan Stals, Market Analyst at Stake.

Megan Stals

Market Analyst

Megan is a markets analyst at Stake, with 7 years of experience in the world of investing and a Master’s degree in Business and Economics from The University of Sydney Business School. Megan has extensive knowledge of the UK markets, working as an analyst at ARCH Emerging Markets - a UK investment advisory platform focused on private equity. Previously she also worked as an analyst at Australian robo advisor Stockspot, where she researched ASX listed equities and helped construct the company's portfolios.

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