In order to justify the effort of selecting individual stocks, it’s worth striving to beat the returns from a market index fund. But in any portfolio, there will be mixed results between individual stocks. So we wouldn’t blame long term PPL Corporation (NYSE:PPL) shareholders for doubting their decision to hold, with the stock down 24% over a half decade. There was little comfort for shareholders in the last week as the price declined a further 1.6%.
There is no denying that markets are sometimes efficient, but prices do not always reflect underlying business performance. One way to examine how market sentiment has changed over time is to look at the interaction between a company’s share price and its earnings per share (EPS).
Looking back five years, both PPL’s share price and EPS declined; the latter at a rate of 4.4% per year. Notably, the share price has fallen at 5% per year, fairly close to the change in the EPS. That suggests that the market sentiment around the company hasn’t changed much over that time. Rather, the share price has approximately tracked EPS growth.
The company’s earnings per share (over time) is depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).
What About Dividends?
As well as measuring the share price return, investors should also consider the total shareholder return (TSR). 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. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. As it happens, PPL’s TSR for the last 5 years was -2.5%, which exceeds the share price return mentioned earlier. And there’s no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!
A Different Perspective
PPL shareholders gained a total return of 17% during the year. But that return falls short of the market. On the bright side, that’s still a gain, and it is certainly better than the yearly loss of about 0.5% endured over half a decade. It could well be that the business is stabilizing. I find it very interesting to look at share price over the long term as a proxy for business performance. But to truly gain insight, we need to consider other information, too.