There's no doubt that investing in the stock market is a truly brilliant way to build wealth. But if when you choose to buy stocks, some of them will be below average performers. For example, the 3M Company (NYSE:MMM), share price is up over the last year, but its gain of 25% trails the market return. Unfortunately the longer term returns are not so good, with the stock falling 1.3% in the last three years.
In his essay The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville Warren Buffett described how share prices do not always rationally reflect the value of a business. One flawed but reasonable way to assess how sentiment around a company has changed is to compare the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price.
During the last year 3M grew its earnings per share (EPS) by 14%. This EPS growth is significantly lower than the 25% increase in the share price. So it's fair to assume the market has a higher opinion of the business than it a year ago.
You can see how EPS has changed over time in the image below (click on the chart to see the exact values).
We know that 3M has improved its bottom line lately, but is it going to grow revenue? You could check out this free report showing analyst revenue forecasts.
What About Dividends?
When looking at investment returns, it is important to consider the difference between total shareholder return (TSR) and share price return. Whereas the share price return only reflects the change in the share price, the TSR includes the value of dividends (assuming they were reinvested) and the benefit of any discounted capital raising or spin-off. Arguably, the TSR gives a more comprehensive picture of the return generated by a stock. As it happens, 3M's TSR for the last year was 29%, 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
3M provided a TSR of 29% over the last twelve months. But that was short of the market average. The silver lining is that the gain was actually better than the average annual return of 5% per year over five year. It is possible that returns will improve along with the business fundamentals. 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. For example, we've discovered 1 warning sign for 3M that you should be aware of before investing here.
But note: 3M may not be the best stock to buy. So take a peek at this free list of interesting companies with past earnings growth (and further growth forecast).
Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.
This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. It does not constitute a recommendation to buy or sell any stock, and does not take account of your objectives, or your financial situation. We aim to bring you long-term focused analysis driven by fundamental data. Note that our analysis may not factor in the latest price-sensitive company announcements or qualitative material. Simply Wall St has no position in any stocks mentioned.
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