Investing in Universal (NYSE:UVV) five years ago would have delivered you a 5.0% gain

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While it may not be enough for some shareholders, we think it is good to see the Universal Corporation (NYSE:UVV) share price up 13% in a single quarter. But over the last half decade, the stock has not performed well. In fact, the share price is down 19%, which falls well short of the return you could get by buying an index fund.

It’s worthwhile assessing if the company’s economics have been moving in lockstep with these underwhelming shareholder returns, or if there is some disparity between the two. So let’s do just that.

See our latest analysis for Universal

To paraphrase Benjamin Graham: Over the short term the market is a voting machine, but over the long term it’s a weighing machine. One way to examine how market sentiment has changed over time is to look at the interaction between a company’s share price and its earnings per share (EPS).

Looking back five years, both Universal’s share price and EPS declined; the latter at a rate of 2.7% per year. Readers should note that the share price has fallen faster than the EPS, at a rate of 4% per year, over the period. This implies that the market is more cautious about the business these days.

You can see below how EPS has changed over time (discover the exact values by clicking on the image).

earnings-per-share-growth

Before buying or selling a stock, we always recommend a close examination of historic growth trends, available here.

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. So for companies that pay a generous dividend, the TSR is often a lot higher than the share price return. In the case of Universal, it has a TSR of 5.0% for the last 5 years. That exceeds its share price return that we previously mentioned. And there’s no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!

A Different Perspective

It’s nice to see that Universal shareholders have received a total shareholder return of 3.6% over the last year. That’s including the dividend. That’s better than the annualised return of 1.0% over half a decade, implying that the company is doing better recently. Someone with an optimistic perspective could view the recent improvement in TSR as indicating that the business itself is getting better with time. 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 2 warning signs for Universal (1 shouldn’t be ignored!) that you should be aware of before investing here.

If you are like me, then you will not want to miss this free list of growing companies that insiders are buying.

Please note, the market returns quoted in this article reflect the market weighted average returns of stocks that currently trade on US exchanges.

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This article by Simply Wall St is general in nature. We provide commentary based on historical data and analyst forecasts only using an unbiased methodology and our articles are not intended to be financial advice. 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.