Numbers can lie -- but they're the best first step in determining whether a stock is a buy. In this series, we use some carefully chosen metrics to size up a stock's true value based on the following clues:

  • The current price multiples.
  • The consistency of past earnings and cash flow.
  • How much growth we can expect.

Let's see what those numbers can tell us about how expensive or cheap Schlumberger (NYS: SLB) might be.

The current price multiples
First, we'll look at most investors' favorite metric: the P/E ratio. It divides the company's share price by its earnings per share -- the lower, the better.


Then, we'll take things up a notch with a more advanced metric: enterprise value to unlevered free cash flow. This divides the company's enterprise value (basically, its market cap plus its debt, minus its cash) by its unlevered free cash flow (its free cash flow, adding back the interest payments on its debt). Like the P/E, the lower this number is, the better.

Analysts argue about which is more important -- earnings or cash flow. Who cares? A good buy ideally has low multiples on both.

Schlumberger has a P/E ratio of 18.1 and an EV/FCF ratio of 541.0 over the trailing 12 months. If we stretch and compare current valuations to the five-year averages for earnings and free cash flow, Schlumberger has a P/E ratio of 21.0 and a five-year EV/FCF ratio of 41.5.

A positive one-year ratio under 10 for both metrics is ideal (at least in my opinion). For a five-year metric, under 20 is ideal.

Schlumberger is zero for four on hitting the ideal targets, but let's see how it compares against some competitors and industry mates. 

Schlumberger 18.1 541.0 21.0 41.5
Weatherford International 30.8 64.8 20.2 NM
National Oilwell Varco 16.7 18.0 19.7 19.4
Halliburton 10.4 33.2 13.3 41.3

Source: S&P Capital IQ; NM = not meaningful because of losses.

Numerically, we've seen how Schlumberger's valuation rates on both an absolute and relative basis. Next, let's examine...

The consistency of past earnings and cash flow
An ideal company will be consistently strong in its earnings and cash flow generation.

In the past five years, Schlumberger's net income margin has ranged from 12.9% to 22.1%. In that same time frame, unlevered free cash flow margin has ranged from 0.5% to 16.8%.

How do those figures compare with those of the company's peers? See for yourself:

anImage

Source: S&P Capital IQ; margin ranges are combined.

Additionally, over the last five years, Schlumberger has tallied up five years of positive earnings and five years of positive free cash flow.

Next, let's figure out...

How much growth we can expect
Analysts tend to comically overstate their five-year growth estimates. If you accept them at face value, you will overpay for stocks. But while you should definitely take the analysts' prognostications with a grain of salt, they can still provide a useful starting point when compared to similar numbers from a company's closest rivals.

Let's start by seeing what this company's done over the past five years. In that time period, Schlumberger has put up past EPS growth rates of 2.3%. Meanwhile, Wall Street's analysts expect future growth rates of 24%.

Here's how Schlumberger compares to its peers for trailing five-year growth:

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Source: S&P Capital IQ; EPS growth shown.

And here's how it measures up with regard to the growth analysts expect over the next five years:

anImage

Source: S&P Capital IQ; estimates for EPS growth.

The bottom line
The pile of numbers we've plowed through has shown us the price multiples shares of Schlumberger are trading at, the volatility of its operational performance, and what kind of growth profile it has -- both on an absolute and a relative basis.

The more consistent a company's performance has been and the more growth we can expect, the more we should be willing to pay. We've gone well beyond looking at an 18.1 P/E ratio, and we see a moderate five-year P/E ratio as well. Its EV/FCF ratios are higher as Schlumberger's capital expenditures in excess of depreciation are dragging down free cash flows. That can be a good thing if the returns on those investments pan out.

Its earnings margins over the last five years between 12.9% and 22.1% are impressive, but the growth of those earnings has been flat.

As another data point, our CAPS community rates Schlumberger five stars (out of five). But all this is just a start. If you find Schlumberger's numbers or story compelling, don't stop. Continue your due diligence process until you're confident one way or the other. As a start, add it to My Watchlist to find all of our Foolish analysis.

I wrote about a stock that's flying under the radar in our brand new free report: "The Stocks Only the Smartest Investors Are Buying." I invite you to take a free copy to find out the name of the company I believe Warren Buffett would be interested in if he could still invest in small companies.

At the time this article was published Anand Chokkavelu owns shares of Halliburton, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of National Oilwell Varco. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of National Oilwell Varco, Halliburton, and Schlumberger. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

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