Should you buy shares of Ramsay Health Care Limited? 

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When looking for shares to add to a portfolio one thing that many investors like to look for is consistent and predictable earnings growth. This is because shares that exhibit these traits generally provide investors with solid share price growth. There are a small number of companies trading on the Australian Stock Exchange that can claim to have achieved this for a number of years. Domino’s Pizza Enterprises Ltd  (ASX: DMP) and Carsales.Com Ltd (ASX: CAR) spring to mind immediately, with several years of consistent earnings growth.

But there is one blue-chip share that towers high above them. With 11 consecutive years of earnings growth Ramsay Health Care Limited (ASX: RHC) is an earnings growth machine. The global hospital group has grown its earnings at a compound annual growth rate of 18% over the last 11 years, which is incredibly impressive.

But, perhaps the most impressive part is that while ordinarily earnings growth will slow as a company gets bigger, for Ramsay Health Care, according to CommSec, this is not the case and it is predicted by analysts to grow its earnings at a rate of close to 21% per annum for the next couple of years.

The company operates its 226 hospitals and medical centres all over the world. According to its most recent annual report, just over a third of its revenue derives from France and around 11% from the UK. The exposure to the British pound and Euro is a great boost to earnings, whilst the Australian dollar is relatively weak.

The remainder of its revenue comes from its Asia-Pacific segment which is heavily dominated by its Australian hospitals at present. But that could change in the future as the company is planning to step into the Chinese market. With its large and ageing population, as well as a growing middle class, the market in China could be one that fuels earnings growth for many years to come.

Year to date the shares have dropped a massive 16%. I believe this makes them an attractive investment now despite the relatively high price to earnings ratio of 26. While buying shares that trade on high price-to-earnings ratios can be risky, I believe its growth justifies paying a premium.

At the rate it is growing its earnings I feel Ramsay Health Care is a buy and hold share. When earnings eventually do slow down, which is many years away in my view, I believe the company will shift from being a growth share to an income share. At present the dividend yields a fully franked 1.9%.

Foolish t akeaway

There are few shares that I would consider to be a buy and hold forever, but Ramsay Health Care Limited is one of them. As mentioned earlier, it is worth noting that I believe its growth prospects are the reason why investors are willing to pay a premium for the shares. Should the company’s actual growth come in lower than the market expects, there could be significant selling pressure placed on the shares. Thankfully, I believe the company is operating in extremely favourable conditions right now and should be able to match the market’s expectations for years to come.

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Motley Fool contributor James Mickleboro has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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