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Those who invested in Aspen Group (ASX:APZ) five years ago are up 140%

Generally speaking the aim of active stock picking is to find companies that provide returns that are superior to the market average. And while active stock picking involves risks (and requires diversification) it can also provide excess returns. For example, the Aspen Group (ASX:APZ) share price is up 88% in the last 5 years, clearly besting the market return of around 25% (ignoring dividends). However, more recent returns haven't been as impressive as that, with the stock returning just 1.4% in the last year , including dividends .

Let's take a look at the underlying fundamentals over the longer term, and see if they've been consistent with shareholders returns.

View our latest analysis for Aspen Group

In his essay The Superinvestors of Graham-and-Doddsville Warren Buffett described how share prices do not always rationally reflect the value of a business. One flawed but reasonable way to assess how sentiment around a company has changed is to compare the earnings per share (EPS) with the share price.

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During five years of share price growth, Aspen Group achieved compound earnings per share (EPS) growth of 63% per year. The EPS growth is more impressive than the yearly share price gain of 13% over the same period. Therefore, it seems the market has become relatively pessimistic about the company. The reasonably low P/E ratio of 6.33 also suggests market apprehension.

The company's earnings per share (over time) is depicted in the image below (click to see the exact numbers).

earnings-per-share-growth
earnings-per-share-growth

We like that insiders have been buying shares in the last twelve months. Even so, future earnings will be far more important to whether current shareholders make money. Dive deeper into the earnings by checking this interactive graph of Aspen Group's earnings, revenue and cash flow.

What About Dividends?

When looking at investment returns, it is important to consider the difference between total shareholder return (TSR) and share price return. The TSR is a return calculation that accounts for the value of cash dividends (assuming that any dividend received was reinvested) and the calculated value of any discounted capital raisings and spin-offs. It's fair to say that the TSR gives a more complete picture for stocks that pay a dividend. We note that for Aspen Group the TSR over the last 5 years was 140%, which is better than the share price return mentioned above. And there's no prize for guessing that the dividend payments largely explain the divergence!

A Different Perspective

Aspen Group provided a TSR of 1.4% over the last twelve months. But that return falls short of the market. It's probably a good sign that the company has an even better long term track record, having provided shareholders with an annual TSR of 19% over five years. It's quite possible the business continues to execute with prowess, even as the share price gains are slowing. It's always interesting to track share price performance over the longer term. But to understand Aspen Group better, we need to consider many other factors. Take risks, for example - Aspen Group has 4 warning signs (and 1 which is concerning) we think you should know about.

Aspen Group is not the only stock that insiders are buying. For those who like to find winning investments this free list of growing companies with recent insider purchasing, could be just the ticket.

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