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 cheap Joe's Jeans (Nasdaq: JOEZ) might be.

The current price multiples
First, we'll look at most investors' favorite metric: the price-to-earnings 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.

Joe's Jeans has a P/E ratio of 5.2 and an EV/FCF ratio of 37.9 over the trailing 12 months. If we stretch and compare current valuations to the five-year averages for earnings and free cash flow, Joe's Jeans has a P/E ratio of 83.8 and a five-year EV/FCF ratio of -629.8.

A one-year ratio under 10 for both metrics is ideal. For a five-year metric, under 20 is ideal.

Joe's Jeans has a mixed performance in hitting the ideal targets, but let's see how it compares against some competitors and industry mates. 

Company

1-Year P/E

1-Year EV/FCF

5-Year P/E

5-Year EV/FCF

Joe's Jeans

5.2

37.9

83.8

(629.8)

True Religion Apparel (Nasdaq: TRLG)

10.5

7.7

13.9

13.0

V.F. Corp (NYSE: VFC)

14.5

7.6

14.6

12.5

Phillips-Van Heusen (NYSE: PVH)

126.7

138.1

31.4

36.0

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Numerically, we've seen how cheap Joe's Jeans is 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, Joe's Jeans' net income margin has ranged from -62% to 24.7%. In that same time frame, unlevered free cash flow margin has ranged from -9.3% to 3.7%.

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



Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; margin ranges are combined.

Additionally, over the last five years, Joe's Jeans has tallied up three years of positive earnings and three years of positive free cash flow.

Next, let's figure out ...

How much growth we can expect
Five-year analyst growth estimates tend to be comically overstated. 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 has done over the past five years. In that time period, Joe's Jeans has put up past EPS growth rates of 54.7%. Meanwhile, Wall Street's analysts expect future growth rates of 71%.

Here's how Joe's Jeans compares it its peers for trailing five-year growth:



Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; EPS growth shown.

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



Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's; estimates for EPS growth.

The bottom line
The pile of numbers we've plowed through has shown us how cheap shares of Joe's Jeans are trading, how consistent its performance has been, 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 a 5.2 P/E ratio. Still, the numbers are just a start.

That 5.2 P/E ratio should be taken with a grain of salt because it's largely due to a tax benefit. Its other multiples evidence this. If a growth company like Joe's was really trading at five times earnings, it would be a steal. With Joe's in its current state, you get the prospect of growth, but with more margin volatility and growing pains than its more established competitors.

If you find Joe's Jeans' numbers compelling, don't stop. Continue your due diligence process until you're confident that the initial numbers aren't lying to you.

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Anand Chokkavelu doesn't own shares in any company mentioned. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.