On the Australian share market, Westpac Banking Corp (ASX: WBC) shares are amongst the most traded, along with other bank shares like Bank of Queensland Limited (ASX: BOQ) and National Australia Bank Ltd (ASX: NAB). The WBC share price is currently trading around $25.46.
Within the financial sector, ASX bank shares are far and away the most popular. We will step through the absolute basics of valuing a bank share like Westpac Banking Corp. If you’re truly interested in understanding more about how to value a bank share, you should consider watching this tutorial from the analyst team at Rask Australia.
Doing a ‘Comps’ valuation
The ‘PE’ ratio compares a company’s share price (P) to its most recent full-year earnings per share (E). Remember, ‘earnings’ is just another word for profit. That means, the PE ratio is simply comparing share price to the most recent yearly profit of the company. Some experts will try to tell you that ‘the lower PE ratio is better’ because it means the share price is ‘low’ relative to the profits produced by the company. However, sometimes shares are cheap for a reason!
Secondly, some extremely successful companies have gone for many years (a decade or more) and never reported an accounting profit — so the PE ratio wouldn’t have worked.
Therefore, we think it’s vital to dig deeper than just looking at the PE ratio and thinking to yourself ‘if it’s below 10x, I’ll buy it.’
One of the straightforward ratio models analysts use to value a bank share is to compare the PE ratio of the bank/share you’re looking at with its peer group or competitors and try to determine if the share is too much or good value relative to the average. From there, and using the principle of mean reversion, we can multiply the profits/earnings per share by the sector average (E x sector PE) to reflect what an average company would be worth. It’s like saying, ‘if all of the other stocks are priced at ‘X’, this one should be too’.
If we take the WBC share price today ($25.46), together with the earnings (aka profits) per share data from its 2020 financial year ($0.637), we can calculate the company’s PE ratio to be 40x. That compares to the banking sector average PE of 25x.
Next, take the profits per share (EPS) ($0.637) and multiply it by the average PE ratio for WBC’s sector (Banking). This results in a ‘sector-adjusted’ PE valuation of $15.92.
What are dividends actually worth?
Given that ASX bank shares like WBC tend to have a history of paying dividends — and they are relatively stable businesses like REITs or ETFs — we can use a modelling tool called a dividend discount model or DDM to do a valuation.
A DDM uses the dividends shareholders are ‘expected’ to receive to arrive at a valuation.
To make this DDM easy to understand, we will assume last year’s dividend payment ($0.31) goes up at a consistent rate into the future at a fixed yearly rate.
Next, we pick the ‘risk’ rate or expected return rate. This is the rate at which we discount the future dividend payments back to today’s dollars. The higher the ‘risk’ rate, the lower the share price valuation.
We’ve used an average rate for dividend growth and a risk rate between 6% and 11%.
This simple DDM valuation of WBC shares is $5.91. However, using an ‘adjusted’ dividend payment of $1.07 per share, the valuation goes to $19.18. The expected dividend valuation compares to Westpac Banking Corp’s share price of $25.46. Since the company’s dividends are fully franked, you might choose to make one further adjustment and do the valuation based on a ‘gross’ dividend payment. That is, the cash dividends plus the franking credits (available to eligible shareholders). Using the forecast gross dividend payment ($1.53), our valuation of the WBC share price prediction to $27.40.
Key takeaways – what to do from here
You could consider using these models as the starting point for your process for analysing and valuing a bank share like WBC. However, please remember that these are just tools used by analysts and in reality, a good analyst and investor will likely conduct 100+ hours of qualitative research before diving into their spreadsheet and starting their modelling.
For example, we spend a lot of our time looking at bank shares and writing about them, but if we were thinking about investing in a bank today we would want to get a handle on its growth strategy, economic indicators like unemployment, and then study house prices and consumer sentiment.