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This may sound obvious to you, but I'm new to all this. Why is the stock market price for a share always higher than the earnings per share? For example, the stock price for a company like NVE today is 15.53$ but its EPS is 0.87$. We would have to wait quite a while (like 4 years: ~1$ x 4 quarters x 4 years ) for it to start being worth buying.

Am I missing something?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Think about the implications if the world worked as your question implies that it "should": A $15 share of stock would return you (at least) $15 after 3 months, plus another $15 after 6 months, plus another after 9 and 12 months. This would have returned to you $60 over the year that you owned it (plus you still own the share). Only then would the stock be worth buying? Anything less than $60 would be too little to be worth bothering about for $15?

Such a thing would indeed be worth buying, but you won't find golden-egg laying stocks like that on the stock market. Why? Because other people would outbid your measly $15 in order to get this $60-a-year producing stock (in fact, they would bid many hundreds of dollars). Since other people bid more, you can't find such a deal available.

(Of course, there are the points others have brought up: the earnings per share are yearly, not quarterly, unless otherwise noted. The earnings may not be sent to you at all, or only a small part, but you would gain much of their value because the company should be worth about that much more by keeping the earnings.)

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Earnings per share are not directly correlated to share price.

NV Energy, the company you cited as an example, is an electric utility. The growth patterns and characteristics of utilities are well-defined, so generally speaking the value of the stock is driven by the quality of the company's cash flow. A utility with a good history of dividend increases, a dividend that is appropriate given the company's fiscal condition, (ie. A dividend that is not more than 80% of earnings) and a good outlook will be priced competitively.

For other types of companies cash flow or even profits do not matter -- the prospects of future earnings matter. If a growth stock (say Netflix as an example) misses its growth projections for a quarter, the stock value will be punished.

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First, the earnings are per year, not per quarter. Why would you expect to get a 100% per year return on your money? The earnings can go one of two ways. They can be retained, reinvested in the company, or they can be distributed as a dividend. So, the 'return' on this share is just over 5%, which is competitive with the rate you'd get on fixed investments. It's higher, in fact, as there's the risk that comes with holding the stock.

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When you buy a stock, you're really paying for a STREAM of earnings, from now till whenever. The job of an investor is to figure out how large that stream will be in the future. But if the stock price were the same as "earnings" (for one year), it would mean that you would get all future earnings for "free." That's not likely to happen unless 1) the company is in liquidation," meaning "no future" and 2) it earned ALL of the money it ever earned in the past year, meaning "no past." If there are likely to be any earnings in the future, you will have to pay for those future earnings, over and above what was earned in the most recent year.

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Stock prices are set by supply and demand. If a particular stock has a high EPS, say, $100, then people will bid more for that stock, driving up its price over one with a $10 EPS.

Your job as an investor is to find stocks with low share prices, but which will give you high earnings (either in dividends, our future share price). This means finding stocks which you believe the market has priced incorrectly, for whatever reason (as an example, many bank stocks are being punished right now, even if the underlying banks are in good shape financially). If you want to beat the market indices, be prepared to do a lot of research, because you're trying to outsmart the market as a whole.

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Imagine a stock where the share price equals the earnings per share.

You pay say $100 for a share. In the next year, the company makes $100 per share. They can pay a $100 dividend, so now you have your money back, and you still own the share. Next year, they make $100 per share, pay a $100 dividend, so now you have your money back, plus $100 in your pocket, plus you own the share. Wow. What an incredible investment.

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