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Understanding Earnings Per Share

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One of the challenges of evaluating stocks is establishing an “apples to apples” comparison. What I mean by this is setting up a comparison that is meaningful so that the results help you make an investment decision.

Comparing the price of two stocks is meaningless as I point out in my article “Why Per-Share Price is Not Important.”

Similarly, comparing the earnings of one company to another really doesn’t make any sense, if you think about it. Using the raw numbers ignores the fact that the two companies undoubtedly have a different number of outstanding shares.

For example, companies A and B both earn $100, but company A has 10 shares outstanding, while company B has 50 shares outstanding. Which company’s stock do you want to own?

It makes more sense to look at earnings per share (EPS) for use as a comparison tool. You calculate earnings per share by taking the net earnings and divide by the outstanding shares.

EPS = Net Earnings / Outstanding Shares
Using our example above, Company A had earnings of $100 and 10 shares outstanding, which equals an EPS of 10 ($100 / 10 = 10). Company B had earnings of $100 and 50 shares outstanding, which equals an EPS of 2 ($100 / 50 = 2).

So, you should go buy Company A with an EPS of 10, right? Maybe, but not just on the basis of its EPS. The EPS is helpful in comparing one company to another, assuming they are in the same industry, but it doesn’t tell you whether it’s a good stock to buy or what the market thinks of it. For that information, we need to look at some ratios.

Before we move on, you should note that there are three types of EPS numbers:

  • Trailing EPS – last year’s numbers and the only actual EPS
  • Current EPS – this year’s numbers, which are still projections
  • Forward EPS – future numbers, which are obviously projections

The articles in this series:

  1. Earnings per Share – EPS
  2. Price to Earnings Ratio – P/E
  3. Projected Earning Growth – PEG
  4. Price to Sales – P/S
  5. Price to Book – P/B
  6. Dividend Payout Ratio
  7. Dividend Yield
  8. Book Value
  9. Return on Equity

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