A: It’s a ratio of two measures of a company. One of the most common multiples is the price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio, which is the stock’s current price divided by its earnings per share. Imagine Scruffy’s Chicken Shack (ticker: BUKBUK), trading at $80 per share. If it earned $4 per share over the past year, its P/E is 20 (80 divided by 4). It’s trading at a P/E ratio of 20.
There are also price-to-sales multiples, book-value multiples, cash-flow multiples and more. It can be helpful to compare a company’s multiples with those of its peers, to see whether its stock appears to be undervalued or overvalued. Nike, for example, recently sported a P/E ratio that was over 82, while Adidas’ was not quite 41. That suggests that Adidas is more attractively priced, though of course you’d want to assess many more factors.
Q: What’s the difference between a private company and a public one? – C.B., Bozeman, Mont.
A: Public companies have shares of stock available to trade on the open markets. They’re required to file quarterly earnings reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission, detailing revenue, expenses, debt loads, cash levels, taxes, income or losses – and much more. These reports are publicly available.
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Privately held companies are not public – meaning average investors can’t buy shares of them. They also don’t have to reveal much about their operations and financial health. According to Forbes, the 100 biggest private companies in America include Koch Industries, Cargill, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Publix, Mars, H-E-B, Pilot Flying J, Enterprise Holdings (parent of the car-rental company), Bechtel, Cox Enterprises, Fidelity Investments, Bloomberg, SC Johnson, McKinsey & Company, Staples and Amway.
Prepare for disasters: It’s fine to prepare for unlikely disasters, perhaps by buying earthquake insurance in a low-risk region, or keeping garlic on you in case of vampire attack. But be sure that you’re preparing for more likely disasters, too, such as these:
Having a bad credit score: A bad credit score will doom you to high interest rates when you’re looking to borrow money, such as for a home or car. Start beefing up your score by paying down your debts and paying bills on time.
Losing your job: As the ongoing pandemic has made clear, unexpected job losses happen, and they can put you in financial peril. Make sure you have an emergency fund stocked with at least several months’ worth of critical living expenses, such as food, housing, utilities, taxes, transportation and so on. It’s also good planning to make yourself more hirable by learning new skills or getting new certifications or degrees.
Needing long-term care: Long-term care is an important issue everyone should consider. If you’re wealthy, you can pay for any care you might need; if you’re poor, you probably won’t be able to pay for it at all. But if you’re in between, consider long-term care insurance. Learn more at LongTermCare.gov.
Not being able to retire: This is a big disaster awaiting millions of people who haven’t socked away enough money to retire on. The best way out of this problem is to read up well in advance, make a plan and act on it. Good strategies include working for a few more years, saving as much as possible in IRAs and 401(k)s, cutting back on spending, taking on a side gig or two and perhaps cashing out a life insurance policy if it’s no longer needed. One of your best moves might be to invest long-term dollars in the stock market, perhaps via a low-fee index fund (such as one that tracks the S&P 500).
My smartest investment
Widened Horizons: My smartest investment ever was leaving my hometown and broadening my horizons. – M.I., online
The Fool responds: That’s a terrific investment indeed. There are countless benefits of traveling: By exposing yourself to other regions and countries, you can get a sense of how other people live – which may help you appreciate just how good you have it compared to billions of others. Getting to know people in other places can help you get over any fears of outsiders or foreigners, and enjoying their hospitality can make you feel like a citizen of the world, not just your state or country. You may even end up making some very good friends around the country or the world.
Trying a wide variety of foods from various cuisines can introduce you to flavors and dishes that become lifelong favorites.
Travel abroad can be greatly enhanced if you take the time to learn the language spoken at your destination – and knowing at least one other language can also be an effective career booster, as lots of companies have (or want to have) international operations and may send employees to other countries.
Travel can boost your self-confidence, as you navigate unfamiliar locations and successfully deal with unexpected events (such as missing a train in Japan). Finally, travel can simply be fun and exciting, and it creates memories to look back on for the rest of your life.
Name that company: Back in 1833, two men – a miller and a druggist who grew herbs – decided to make and sell drugs and essential oils. Their company ended up a part of me, along with many others. I got my current name after the 1958 merger between Polak & Schwarz and van Ameringen-Haebler. Today, based in New York City and with a market value recently near $13 billion, I’m a worldwide force in scents, tastes and ingredients. In 2019, I raked in $5.1 billion from about 38,000 customers. I’m merging with DuPont’s Nutrition & Biosciences division. Who am I?
Last week’s trivia answer: I trace my roots back to 1904, when a son of Italian immigrants founded the Bank of Italy in San Francisco, which morphed over time to become the world’s largest commercial bank by the 1930s. I’ve gobbled up lots of companies, including credit card giant MBNA, U.S. Trust, FleetBoston Financial (which traced its roots to 1784) and even Merrill Lynch. Today, based in Charlotte, N.C., I sport a market value recently near $262 billion. I serve about 66 million customers via roughly 4,300 retail financial centers, and about 31 million customers bank with me using mobile devices. Who am I? (Answer: Bank of America)
The Motley Fool take
Tech Dividends: Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO), the world’s largest producer of networking routers and switches, has posted declining revenue for four straight quarters. Its infrastructure business, which generates over half its revenue, struggled with sluggish network upgrades, competition from rivals, the loss of Chinese contracts during the ongoing trade war and pandemic-related disruptions. Its smaller security business continued growing, but couldn’t offset its other weaknesses.
Cisco’s revenue declined 5% in fiscal 2020, but its adjusted earnings grew 4% as it cut costs and repurchased more shares. Analysts expect both its revenue and earnings to dip by about 1% this year. Those growth rates might seem dismal, but Cisco’s core business should heat up again after the pandemic passes. Warmer relations between the U.S. and China under the Biden administration could stabilize Cisco’s Chinese business, and it might pull customers away from Huawei as the Chinese tech giant struggles with trade blacklists and sanctions. A growing need for cloud and data center upgrades should also spark fresh orders for its routers and switches worldwide.
Cisco’s stock isn’t likely to rally anytime soon, but its low forward-looking price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 14 and its recent dividend yield of 3.2% should limit its downside risk. It’s raised its dividend every year following its first payment in 2011, and is likely to keep doing so. Consider Cisco for your long-term portfolio.
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