Investing in UniFirst (NYSE:UNF) five years ago would have delivered you a 42% gain

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If you buy and hold a stock for many years, you’d hope to be making a profit. But more than that, you probably want to see it rise more than the market average. Unfortunately for shareholders, while the UniFirst Corporation (NYSE:UNF) share price is up 39% in the last five years, that’s less than the market return. Zooming in, the stock is actually down 10% in the last year.

Now it’s worth having a look at the company’s fundamentals too, because that will help us determine if the long term shareholder return has matched the performance of the underlying business.

View our latest analysis for UniFirst

To quote Buffett, ‘Ships will sail around the world but the Flat Earth Society will flourish. There will continue to be wide discrepancies between price and value in the marketplace…’ One imperfect but simple way to consider how the market perception of a company has shifted is to compare the change in the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price movement.

During five years of share price growth, UniFirst achieved compound earnings per share (EPS) growth of 1.8% per year. This EPS growth is lower than the 7% average annual increase in the share price. This suggests that market participants hold the company in higher regard, these days. That’s not necessarily surprising considering the five-year track record of earnings growth.

The graphic below depicts how EPS has changed over time (unveil the exact values by clicking on the image).

earnings-per-share-growth

We consider it positive that insiders have made significant purchases in the last year. Having said that, most people consider earnings and revenue growth trends to be a more meaningful guide to the business. It might be well worthwhile taking a look at our free report on UniFirst’s earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What About Dividends?

As well as measuring the share price return, investors should also consider the total shareholder return (TSR). The TSR incorporates the value of any spin-offs or discounted capital raisings, along with any dividends, based on the assumption that the dividends are reinvested. So for companies that pay a generous dividend, the TSR is often a lot higher than the share price return. We note that for UniFirst the TSR over the last 5 years was 42%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. The dividends paid by the company have thusly boosted the total shareholder return.

A Different Perspective

While it’s never nice to take a loss, UniFirst shareholders can take comfort that , including dividends,their trailing twelve month loss of 9.7% wasn’t as bad as the market loss of around 11%. Of course, the long term returns are far more important and the good news is that over five years, the stock has returned 7% for each year. It could be that the business is just facing some short term problems, but shareholders should keep a close eye on the 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. Case in point: We’ve spotted 1 warning sign for UniFirst you should be aware of.

UniFirst is not the only stock insiders are buying. So take a peek at this free list of growing companies with insider buying.

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

Have feedback on this article? Concerned about the content? Get in touch with us directly. Alternatively, email editorial-team (at) simplywallst.com.

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.

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