Ben Graham loved buying cheap stocks full of value. Unfortunately, with the bull market five years old, it’s getting harder to find those cheap stocks Graham would find so dear. Goldman Sachs (GS) equity strategist David Kostin believes the S&P 500 is currently way overvalued; he’s probably right.
Nonetheless, it’s my job to come up with “cheap” stocks — that is, stocks with a low nominal share price — that are also value plays — meaning they’re trading at a low P/E multiple. I’m limiting my field to stocks trading for less than 10 — it won’t be easy, but here goes.
Cheap Stocks to Buy: Fortress Investment Group (FIG)
If you look at the major publicly traded investment managers who invest in private equity — Blackstone Group (BX), KKR (KKR), Apollo Global Management (APO) and Carlyle Group (CG) — you’ll notice that all but Fortress have stock prices in the $20s and $30s. FIG is one of those cheap stocks that’s traded below $10 since September 2008. It went public at $18.50 in February of that year, hitting its all-time high of $37 in its first day of trading. It’s been downhill ever since.
FIG manages $61.8 billion in assets including $15.8 billion in a number of private equity funds. In addition to managing those funds for third parties, the company has committed $1 billion of its own capital to these funds including investments in several companies it’s taken public in the past 12 months.
While some might consider private equity firms to be at the high-end of the cycle, I see Fortress just now coming into its own. Fortress recently announced it took a paper loss on Bitcoin. Not to worry, FIG’s 2013 distributable earnings per share increased by almost 70% to $0.88, its highest level since its IPO. I see it moving higher than $10 in 2014.
Cheap Stocks to Buy: ACCO Brands (ACCO)
I don’t know about you but I definitely use several of its products on a regular basis. In fact, right here on my desk beside my computer is a small, Five Star notebook for jotting down ideas. I grew up on Hilroy notebooks, a brand brought to the table in its 2012 merger with MeadWestvaco’s (MWV) Consumer and Office Products division. MWV shareholders received one-third of an ACCO share for every MWV share. Since the deal was completed, ACCO stock has lost 42% of its value.
ACCO expects revenue to decrease approximately 5% in 2014 to $1.68 billion. Adjusted earnings should be flat when compared with the past year at $0.76 per share. With its share price currently threatening to drop below $6, investors are getting it for less than 8x adjusted earnings. In 2013 it repaid $151 million of its debt using all of its free cash flow to do so. In 2014, it expects free cash flow of $140 million, which it will likely use to repay more debt.
Assuming it delivers on its outlook for 2014, its current free cash flow yield is a very enticing 20%. This isn’t a growth stock, but its brands still possess hidden value. As cheap stocks go, it’s very attractive.
Cheap Stocks to Buy: Aegon (AEG)
It’s not often that you can buy a $19 billion market cap for under 10 bucks. Aegon’s a Dutch insurance company that’s had a rough ride over the past few years, and its stock’s suffered as a result. In the late ’90s AEG stock traded around $60 — it hasn’t been anywhere close since. However, it’s got some good assets that should bear fruit in the years to come. Aegon has 12,000 employees in the Americas doing business primarily under the Transamerica brand, which has been a part of AEG since 1999.
In terms of growth, Asia is where the company is achieving its greatest success. Operating joint ventures in China, India and Japan, Aegon’s gross deposits in new markets grew 31% in fiscal 2013 to $19.8 billion. Its underlying earnings before tax have grown 28% over the last two fiscal years, with fee-based earnings representing a much bigger part of its business than in the past. That’s a good thing, because fee-based earnings don’t have nearly the same bite if things go south than assets on your own balance sheet. Its operations outside of Europe are getting stronger, providing the diversification necessary to survive financial hiccups. As far as insurers go, AEG is one of the best cheap stocks worth owning.
Cheap Stocks to Buy: Cencosud S.A. (CNCO)
Cencosud is one of the largest retailers in Latin America. It operates grocery stores, home improvement stores and department stores in five countries including Chile, its home base. Its stock is down 51% over the past year for several reasons, including a deal falling through that would have seen it sell 51% of its credit card operations in Chile and Argentina to Itau Unibanco (ITUB) and using the proceeds to reduce its heavy debt load. Add to that a major devaluation of the peso in Argentina, where it generates a quarter of its overall revenue, and you have investors in a full-on panic.
However, when you drill down and truly examine its business, you’ll see that it’s a company with plenty of gas left in the tank. In 2014 it plans to open 39 supermarkets, seven home improvement stores and five department stores, undertaking $210 million in capital investments. And that’s just for the new store openings. Cencosud will also invest $100 million strengthening its IT and another $75 million for general upkeep. Those are the things you have to do when you’re generating $21 billion in revenue and $1.6 billion in EBITDA.
With its business operationally sound, the last year’s 50% haircut has made CNCO one of the best cheap stocks in retail. Trading at less than book, you won’t find many cheaper.
Cheap Stocks to Buy: Aeropostale (ARO)
Another retailer singing the blues, ARO has seen its stock fall 45% over the past year. Aeropostale, along with the other two teen retailers starting with the letter “A,” have all fallen on hard times in the past year. Consumers have taken their business elsewhere. Aeropostale hadn’t had a net loss at any time in the past decade … and yet it will have lost $1.15 per share or more in 2013.
Last December I handicapped the three teen retailers. At the time I recommended American Eagle (AEO) as the smartest bet. That was before holiday sales results tanked and CEO Robert Hanson stepped down. Now I have no idea which of the three stands out. For me, I like ARO only because it’s got a good CEO in place and is acquisition fodder for private equity. Somebody will buy its business — and it won’t be for $7 and change a share.
From a valuation perspective, it’s hard not to like its P/S ratio of 0.27, less than its two rivals and virtually every other retailer. As cheap stocks go, ARO is where value meets opportunity.
As of this writing, Will Ashworth did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.