With an average analyst rating of buy, Cheniere Energy is clearly an analyst favorite. But the analysts could be wrong. Is LNG overvalued at today's price of $163.91? Let's take a closer look at the fundamentals to find out.
The first step in determining whether a stock is overvalued is to check its price to book (P/B) ratio. This is perhaps the most basic measure of a company's valuation, which is its market value divided by its book value. Book value refers to the sum of all of the company's assets minus its liabilities -- you can also think of it as the company's equity value.
Traditionally, value investors would look for companies with a ratio of less than 1 (meaning that the market value was smaller than the company's book value), but such opportunities are very rare these days. So we tend to look for company's whose valuations are less than their sector and market average. The P/B ratio for Cheniere Energy is 13.77, compared to its sector average of 1.03 and the S&P 500's average P/B of 2.95.
Modernly, the most common metric for valuing a company is its Price to Earnings (P/E) ratio. It's simply today's stock price of 163.91 divided by either its trailing or forward earnings, which for Cheniere Energy are $33.92 and $11.04 respectively. Based on these values, the company's trailing P/E ratio is 4.8 and its forward P/E ratio is 14.8. By way of comparison, the average P/E ratio of the Utilities sector is 22.89 and the average P/E ratio of the S&P 500 is 15.97.
The problem with P/E ratios is that they don't take into account the growth of earnings. This means that a company with a higher than average P/E ratio may still be undervalued if it has extremely high projected earnings growth. Conversely, a company with a low P/E ratio may not present a good value proposition if its projected earnings are stagnant.
When we divide Cheniere Energy's P/E ratio by its projected 5 year earnings growth rate, we obtain its Price to Earnings Growth (PEG) ratio of 0.18. Since a PEG ratio between 0 and 1 may indicate that the company's valuation is proportionate to its growth potential, we see here that LNG is actually fairly valued if we factor growth into the price to earnings calculus. One important caveat here is that PEG ratios are calculated on the basis of future earnings growth estimates, which may turn out to be wrong.
Indebted or mismanaged companies can't sustain shareholder value for long, even if they have strong earnings. For this reason, considering Cheniere Energy's ability to meet its debt obligations is also an important aspect of pinning down its valuation. By adding up its current assets, then subtracting its inventory and prepaid expenses, and then dividing the whole by its current liabilities, we obtain the company's Quick Ratio of 1.071. Since LNG's quick ratio is higher than 1, its total liquid assets are sufficient to meets its current liabilities.
One last metric to check out is Cheniere Energy's free cash flow of $12.35 Billion. This represents the total sum of all the company's inflows and outflows of capital, including the costs of servicing its debt. It's the final bottom line of the company, which it can use to re-invest or to pay its investors a dividend. With such healthy cash flows, investors can expect Cheniere Energy to keep paying its 1.0% dividend.
Despite the quantitative evidence that Cheniere Energy is overvalued, analysts are mostly bullish on the stock. What do they know about the stock's that trumps its weak valuation and growth potential? We will look into this question in a future report focusing on qualitative factors that might be favoring LNG.