How to tell if stocks are overvalued
It’s not uncommon for stocks to be overvalued – but you can still trade them if you know what to look out for. Learn more about overvalued shares and how to speculate on their price movements.
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Overvalued stocks explained
Overvalued stocks are shares that trade at a higher price than their real – ‘fair’ – value. Stocks can be overvalued for different reasons, including decline in a company’s financials and sudden increases in buying, normally caused by emotional decisions.
A key assumption of fundamental analysis is that market prices will correct over time to reflect an asset’s fair value. Traders look for overvalued stocks so that they can use derivatives such as CFD trading to go short on the market.
Why do stocks become overvalued?
Stocks can become overvalued for many reasons, including:
- Surges in demand: trading volume is the amount of market activity over a certain period – it reflects how many stocks were bought and sold in that time. High demand could cause overvaluation of the stocks
- Change in company earnings: when the economy suffers, public spending decreases, which could cause company earnings to drop. If this happens, but the company’s stock price doesn't adjust to the new earnings level, its stocks could be considered overvalued
- Good news: stocks can become overvalued if they get a lot of positive press coverage
- Cyclical fluctuations: some industries’ stocks perform better over certain quarters than others, which could affect share prices
Eight ways to spot overvalued stock
As part of fundamental analysis, there are eight ratios commonly used by traders and investors. The following ratios could be used to find overvalued stocks and determine their true value:
Price-earnings ratio (P/E)
A company’s price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) is one way to measure its stock value. Essentially, it explains how much you’d have to spend to make £1 in profit. A high P/E ratio could mean the stocks are overvalued. Therefore, it could be useful to compare competitor companies’ P/E ratios to find out if the stocks you’re looking to trade are overvalued.
P/E ratio is calculated by dividing the market value per share by the earnings per share (EPS). The EPS is calculated by dividing the total company profit by the number of shares it has issued.
P/E ratio example: You buy XYZ shares at £100 per share. XYZ has five million shares in circulation and turns a profit of £2 million. This means the EPS is 40p (£2 million/five million) and the P/E ratio equals 250 (£100/40p). So, you’ll have to invest £250 for every £1 In profit.
Price-earnings to growth ratio (PEG)
The PEG ratio, looks at the P/E ratio compared to the percentage growth in annual EPS. If a company has below average earnings and a high PEG ratio, it could mean that its stock is overvalued.
PEG ratio example: Company XYZ’s price per share is £100 and the EPS is £5. This means the P/E ratio is 20 (£100/£5) and the earnings rate is 5% (£5/£100). The PEG ratio would then be equal to 4 (20/5%).
Relative dividend yield
Dividend yield is a company’s annual dividends – the portion of profit paid out to shareholders – compared to its share price. The relative dividend yield is the dividend yield of a single stock compared to that of the entire index, for example the S&P 500.
To calculate the relative dividend yield, first calculate the dividend yield for the company you are analysing by dividing its annual dividend by the current share price. Next, divide the company’s dividend yield by the average dividend yield for the index. A low relative dividend yield could suggest that the shares are overvalued.
Relative dividend yield example: XYZ pays out dividends of $2 per share every year. The current share price is £100, which means the company’s dividend yield is 2% (£2/£100). The average for the index is 4%, which means the relative dividend yield is 0.5 (2%/4%).
Debt-equity ratio (D/E)
The D/E ratio measures a company’s debt against its assets. A lower ratio could mean that the company gets most of its funding from its shareholders – however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that its stock is overvalued. To establish this, a company’s D/E ratio should always be measured against the average for its competitors. That’s because a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ratio depends on the industry. D/E ratio is calculated by dividing liabilities by stockholder equity.
D/E example: ABC has £500 million in debt (liabilities) and stockholder equity of £1 billion. The D/E ratio would be 0.5 (£500 million/£1 billion). This means there is $0.50 of debt for every £1 of equity.
Return on equity (ROE)
ROE measures a company’s profitability against its equity – it's expressed as a percentage. ROE is calculated by dividing net income by stakeholder equity. A low ROE could be a possible indicator of overvalued shares. That’s because it would show that the company isn't generating a lot of income relative to the amount of shareholder investment.
ROE example: ABC has a net income (income minus liabilities) of £100 million and a stockholder equity of £120 million. Therefore, the ROE is equal to 83% (£100 million/£120 million).
The earnings yield is basically the opposite of the P/E ratio. It is calculated by dividing EPS by the price per share, instead of price per share by earnings. Some traders consider stock to be overvalued if the average interest rate the US government pays when borrowing money (known as the treasury yield) is higher than the earnings yield.
Earnings yield example: ABC has £20 EPS and the share price is £60. The earnings yield will be equal to 33% (£20/£60).
A company’s current ratio is a measure of its ability to pay off debts. It is calculated by simply dividing assets by liabilities. A current ratio higher than 1 normally means liabilities can be adequately covered by the available assets. The higher the current ratio, the higher the likelihood that the stock price will continue to rise – even to the point of it becoming overvalued.
Current ratio example: ABC has £1.8 billion in assets and £1 billion in liabilities (debt), so the current ratio equals 1.8 (£1.8 billion/£1 billion).
Price-book ratio (P/B)
The test of a stock’s true value also lies in the P/B ratio of the company. This ratio is used to assess the current market price against the company’s book value (total assets minus liabilities, divided by number of shares issued). To calculate it, divide the market price per share by the book value per share. A stock could be overvalued if the P/B ratio is higher than 1.
P/B ratio example: ABC’s shares are selling for £50 a share, and its book value per share is £30, which means the P/B ratio is 1.67 (£50/£30).
How to trade overvalued stocks: going short
By going short, you are predicting that the price of the stock will fall towards its ‘fair’ value. You’ll make a profit if your prediction is correct – ie the share price does go down – but you’ll make a loss if the share price goes up. Follow these steps:
- Create or log in to your trading account
- Search for your preferred stock on our platform
- Select ‘sell’ in the deal ticket
- Choose your position size
- Open and monitor your position
Note that trading on leverage magnifies your risk, because your profits and losses are both calculated on the full value of your position – not the deposit used to open it. Always take appropriate steps to manage your risk before committing your capital.
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