By Charley Blaine
The winner, by more than a country mile, is... Amazon! (NASDAQ:AMZN). The online retailing colossus sports the highest price-to-earnings ratio among stocks in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index: a whopping 462 times its trailing 12-month earnings.
Amazon's P/E ratio, based on Wednesday's closing price of $297.62, down 2.3 percent on the day, is 25 times the overall P/E ratio of stocks in the S&P 500, which was 17.9 last Friday.
For most, Amazon's P/E, based on trailing 12-months' earnings, suggests a stock that's wildly overvalued and primed to fall. It already has suffered a big pullback, falling nearly 27 percent since its intraday peak of $408.06 reached on Jan. 22. The question is whether there's more damage ahead for the stock.
The huge size of those P/E ratios feed into the belief of many that the stock market is overvalued (some would say grossly overvalued) and ready to tumble after more than five years of gains. Wednesday stocks did slide lower, with the Dow Jones industrials down 101 points to 16,614. The point loss was its largest since a 130-point loss on May 6.
The S&P 500 fell 9 points to 1,889 with only 131 stocks in the index showing gains. The decline did little to change which stocks are overvalued in a conventional sense, with Amazon remaining the leader.
Amazon, of course, plays by its own rules, ignoring demands to boost profits. Instead, it concentrates on cutting prices while expanding services, all in hopes of maximizing revenue. And so its P/E ratio expanded dramatically, soaring past 600 in the first quarter alone.
The big rally since March 2009 has pushed prices sharply higher; the S&P 500 is up about 180 percent in that time. Lately, however, the P/E ratios have pulled back. The S&P 500's 17.9 P/E ratio on Friday was down from 19 a year ago. The 12-month forward P/E ratio is 15.8.
Overvalued Stocks By Trailing P/E
Here's a look at the 10 companies in the S&P 500 with the highest P/E ratios.
- Amazon.com. Wednesday close $297.62, down 2.3 percent. P/E ratio: 462. 52-week price range: $258.34 to $408.06. Many investors still admire the company's strategic tenacity.
- Vulcan Materials. Wednesday close: $60.88 down 1.3 percent. P/E ratio: 259. 52-week price range: $46.21 to $69.50. The producer of asphalt, cement and other heavy construction materials recently reported a narrower-than-expected operating loss.
- Consol Energy. Wednesday close: $43.88, up 0.3 percent. P/E ratio: 153. 52-week price range: $26.25 to $45.57. The oil-and-gas producer is a big player in oil-and-gas shale deposits in the eastern United States. It also has a big coal business. Higher energy prices are helping. But a big question is: How long will those high prices last?
- Netflix. Wednesday close: $351.88, up 1.4 percent. P/E ratio: 130. 52-week price range: $205.75 to $458.00. The video-streaming company is expanding its offerings in the United States and in Europe. It made peace with Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), ensuring its video streams will reach customers efficiently.
- Peabody Energy (BTU). Wednesday close: $19.13, up 1.4 percent. P/E ratio: 101. 52-week price range: $14.34 to $21.85. Coal stocks began to rise this year after several years of battering, with stock price growth much greater than earnings. A recent upgrade from Morgan Stanley helped.
- Crown Castle International (NYSE:CCI). Wednesday close: $77.28, up 0.1 percent. P/E ratio: 92. 52-week price range: $66.73 to $79.31. The company is one of the big owner/managers of cell-phone towers. Hardly a business where demand is falling.
- Facebook (NASDAQ:FB). Wednesday close: $59.23, down 1 percent. P/E ratio: 80. 52-week price range: $22.67 to $72.59. Investors are in thrall with Facebook's rapid expansion into mobile advertising. If there are risks, it's CEO Mark Zuckerberg's near total control of the company and the company's willingness to pay billions for acquisitions with technologies that may not be entirely proven.
- Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE). Wednesday close: $60.88, up 0.1 percent. P/E ratio: 77. 52-week price range: $41.91 to $71.11. This is a stock that got way ahead of itself, rising 59 percent in 2013, even as reported earnings have been falling. It added 16.3 percent this year until it peaked on February 27. It's off 14.3 percent since.
- Range Resources (NYSE:RRC). Wednesday close: $89.08, down 0.2 percent. P/E ratio: 73. 52-week price range: $72.54 to $95.41. The company is a successful player in the development of natural gas and crude oil in shale deposits, and investors expect more from it.
- Leucadia National (NYSE:LUK). Wednesday close: 25.48, down 0.04 percent. P/E ratio: 64. 52-week price range: $24.70 to $32.19. The conglomerate owns lumber and food processing companies, auto dealerships, a mortgage business and the investment bank Jefferies LLC.
Overvalued Stocks By Forward P/E
Amazon's forward P/E ratio, which looks at price now compared with expected earnings by the end of this year, is nearly as gaudy: about 159, compared with the S&P 500's forward P/E of 15.82.
Here are the top 10 stocks ranked by forward P/E:
- Allegheny Technologies (NYSE:ATI). Forward P/E: 121. Wednesday close: $41.86, down 0.3 percent. 52-week price range: $22.67 to $72.59.
- Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM), Forward P/E: 107. Wednesday close: $51.88, down 0.8 percent. 52-week price range: $36.09 to $67. The largest maker of customer relationship software, Salesforce.com has been a Wall Street darling.
- Netflix. Forward P/E: 98.
- Vulcan Materials. Forward P/E: 68.
- Crown Castle International. Forward P/E: 63.
- Adobe Systems. Forward P/E: 55.
- Under Armour (NYSE:UA). Wednesday close: $47.32, down 1.6 percent. 52-week price range: $27:82: to $62.40. The athletic apparel maker reported 36 percent revenue growth in its fiscal-first quarter. That's a gain that will be hard to beat.
- Facebook Inc. Forward P/E: 47.
- Range Resources. Forward P/E: 45.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
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