M&A activity continues to be reasonably strong and it should stay that way. Corporations remain flush with cash, borrowing rates are low, and the U.S. stock market sits not far off all-time highs. As a result, investors are looking for takeover targets: stocks to buy on hopes that they will be acquired, usually at a large premium to the trading price.
That said, relying solely on takeover hopes is a risky strategy. It only takes one acquirer to lead to big gains, but even finding just one can be difficult. Rumors of acquisitions don’t always pan out. And if a premium is priced into a stock, and a buyout doesn’t come through, the declines can be steep.
These ten stocks look like attractive takeover targets. But they also have reasonably strong underlying bull cases. In other words, an acquisition might be the best-case scenario, but there are paths to upside, even if a buyer doesn’t emerge.
The question for cloud provider Dropbox (NASDAQ:DBX) is reasonably simple. Are rivals going to buy the company for its market share, or try to take that share for themselves?
At InvestorPlace, Will Healy took the bearish side, comparing Dropbox to America Online (now owned by Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ)). Giants like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL) all are targeting the same storage space.
But Dropbox has carved out an impressive niche, with a user base over 500 million. And one of those giants could easily leap forward by buying Dropbox out in a deal that probably would cost a reasonable $12-$15 billion. In the meantime, DBX stock isn’t terribly expensive given its growth, at 39x next year’s earnings-per-share estimates. And a big first-quarter report alongside raised full-year guidance suggests it’s more than holding its own in a growing market.
Diamondback Energy (FANG)
Diamondback Energy (NASDAQ:FANG) is one of the operators in the Permian Basin, which makes it a potential takeover target at the moment. Indeed, FANG shares gained nicely last month after Chevron (NYSE:CVX) announced its plan to acquire Anadarko Petroleum (NYSE:APC).
The thesis was that Chevron’s bid would be the first of many in a suddenly hot U.S. shale industry. The fact that Occidental Petroleum (NYSE:OXY) wound up outbidding Chevron for Anadarko only added to the optimism.
A recent downturn in oil prices has brought FANG back to Earth, but also made its valuation more reasonable. Dana Blankenhorn detailed the standalone case for the stock back in February at modestly higher prices. Since then, a big Q1 report and a $2 billion share buyback program have only strengthened the case. Diamondback is a valuable play on U.S. shale, and it could see a big gain if other oil majors want to build on their presence in the Permian.
William Lyon Homes (WLH)
Last year, I highlighted William Lyon Homes (NYSE:WLH) as one of three homebuilders that could be an acquisition target. The sector had seen M&A, with Lennar (NYSE:LEN) acquiring CalAtlantic and Taylor Morrison (NYSE:TMHC) taking out AV Homes. Valuations were cheap, though they got cheaper as 2018 went on before a rally in 2019.
And it looks like William Lyon might be open to a deal. Last month, the WLH board allowed founder and CEO William Lyon to discuss a potential sale of the company with outside investors. A strong Q1 report helped as well, leading WLH shares up 13%.
But there’s more potential upside ahead. WLH shares have given back some of the gains in recent trading. They still sit some 40% below early 2018 highs, and trade at less than 8x earnings. If CEO Lyon can find a buyer, WLH shares could soar. If he can’t, investors buying at this price could win anyway.
XPO Logistics (XPO)
Investors in XPO Logistics (NYSE:XPO) could use some good news. XPO shares plunged during the market sell-off last year, and they haven’t recovered. A short-seller report questioning the company’s accounting added to the pressure. So did disappointing earnings and the loss of Amazon as a customer.
But XPO is reacting. XPO has paused its long-running M&A efforts, with its CEO telling the Wall Street Journal that the declining share price actually led it to back off a potential acquisition. Instead, XPO is buying back its own stock at the new, lower prices.
At those prices, XPO could become a takeover target. Jefferies (NYSE:JEF) made exactly that argument in late March. Home Depot (NYSE:HD) reportedly considered a deal in late 2017, which raised hopes of a bidding war. At these levels, Home Depot or another strategic acquirer could be more incentivized to step in. If they don’t, buybacks and a cheap multiple to earnings suggest XPO could rally once investor sentiment begins to turn.
Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN)
Investors could be forgiven for running out of patience with Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:ALXN). Over the years, Alexion has been rumored as a potential target for companies, including Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN), Roche (OTCMKTS:RHHBY), Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Novartis (NYSE:NVS), among others. Elliott Management, who has a history of agitating for sales, took a stake in late 2017, which only added to the speculation.
Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, including Alexion on its 2019 list of targets in biopharma and cited an analyst claim that BioMarin Pharmaceutical (NASDAQ:BMRN), itself a long-rumored takeover target, could be interested. As another analyst put it, Alexion’s $25 billion market cap is “Goldilocks-sized“. It’s big enough to move the needle, but not so big as to be a “bet the company” type of deal.
That said, takeover speculation hasn’t done much for ALXN stock. The stock sits well below 2015 highs above $200. It has traded pretty much sideways for three years now.
Yet that weak trading has come even as earnings have grown, leaving ALXN reasonably cheap. The stock trades at under 11x 2020 EPS estimates. With Ultomiris succeeding the company’s flagship Soliris, earnings should stay solid for years to come. Meanwhile, a recent pullback leaves the stock well below analyst estimates. The average target price of $163 suggests 44% upside.
A takeover may finally come, particularly with Ultomiris on the market. But if it doesn’t, ALXN is cheap enough to gain on its own.
Domino’s Pizza (DPZ)
I wrote in March that Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) was simply too cheap. DPZ shares have gained since then, but even 14% higher still look attractive. This remains one of the best operators in the entire restaurant industry. And Domino’s continues to take share from rivals like Papa John’s International (NASDAQ:PZZA) and Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM) unit Pizza Hut.
Meanwhile, there’s the potential for a takeover from an obvious suitor: Restaurant Brands International (NYSE:QSR). Cowen (NASDAQ:COWN) predicted a QSR-DPZ deal in February and it makes quite a bit of sense. Restaurant Brands has said it wants another brand on top of Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes, which it acquired back in 2017. Those concepts could benefit from Domino’s best practices and potentially the company’s delivery expertise.
Such a deal would be a huge one for Restaurant Brands, admittedly and maybe too big to swallow (pardon the pun). But DPZ, even near the highs, is a wonderful company to own even if Restaurant Brands doesn’t make a move.
Malibu Boats (MBUU) and Mastercraft Boat Holdings (MCFT)
Shares of both Malibu Boats (NASDAQ:MBUU) and Mastercraft Boat Holdings (NASDAQ:MCFT) have come in quite a bit of late. The issue hasn’t been performance: both companies delivered strong earnings reports last month, which covered the key calendar first quarter.
Rather, investors are worried about the boating industry and the macroeconomic cycle. Boating demand may be under secular pressure, as younger consumers choose non-motorized alternatives like kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Meanwhile, investors continue to fear that a recession is on the way, which has historically undercut boat sales.
But the declines leave both stocks essentially pricing in the worst: MCFT trades at less than 7x forward earnings, and MBUU less than 9x. Both multiples seem too cheap, as I argued back in March. A rally soon after has fizzled, with both stocks near year-to-date lows.
At these levels, both stocks, as well as marine products manufacturer Johnson Outdoors (NASDAQ:JOUT), look too cheap. And it’s possible an acquirer could take advantage. Industry leader Brunswick (NYSE:BC) has sold its fitness business and built out its parts and accessories offering, but could look to add high-end market exposure through either company. Private equity could kick the tires, as the cyclical businesses might do better away from the glare of the public markets.
The two companies could even consider merging themselves: Malibu and MasterCraft are headquartered less than 30 miles apart. Either way, boating stocks look cheap, and it seems likely that at some point, someone will do something about it.
Sprouts Farmer Market (SFM)
Grocery store stocks like Sprouts Farmer Markets (NASDAQ:SFM) are struggling. SFM itself has traded sideways for roughly four years now. Industry leader Kroger (NYSE:KR) is down 40%+ from late 2015 levels. Competition and higher freight costs are among the worries looking forward.
Even with those concerns, the sector has seen M&A. Amazon, of course, acquired Whole Foods Market back in 2017. United Natural Foods (NASDAQ:UNFI) took out Supervalu last year. And this year, Smart & Final (NYSE:SFS) agreed to go private.
Sprouts could be the next grocer to receive an offer. With a market cap of $2.4 billion, it’s the right size for a tuck-in acquisition by Kroger or privately held Albertsons. Strong Q1 results show the company is still growing. It has exposure to organic and natural food trends, both of which should be tailwinds going forward. And there’s plenty of room for store expansion going forward.
Meanwhile, on its own, SFM is hardly expensive, trading at 15x next year’s EPS estimates. That’s a reasonable valuation even given the low multiples seen elsewhere in the space. It does seem like patient investors can win with SFM longer-term, with the possibility that more immediate returns will come.
The biggest concern with semiconductor developer Xilinx (NASDAQ:XLNX) is that seemingly everyone already thinks the company is going to be bought out. Speculation goes back for years, yet no buyer has emerged.
Meanwhile, XLNX has continued to get more expensive and it still isn’t cheap. A 23x forward multiple is hefty for the chip space, particularly with semiconductor stocks taking a beating over the last year. There’s likely some level of takeover premium already embedded in the stock, meaning that if a takeover doesn’t come, even strong growth may not lead to much upside.
That said, there are reasons why Xilinx has been considered such an attractive potential buy. The stock is cheaper after a disappointing earnings report in April sent the stock tumbling. And it’s worth remembering that, in the chip space, even obvious targets eventually sold for a solid premium. Mobileye sold to Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) despite valuation concerns. Mellanox (NASDAQ:MLNX) soared earlier this year after receiving an offer from Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA).
In both cases, investors who ignored valuation worries were rewarded. Particularly after the recent decline, investors in XLNX could see a similar payoff.
As of this writing, Vince Martin did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.