Some investors focus on buying stocks whose per-share prices are under $10 or under $5. But when considering stocks to buy, the per-share prices don’t fully reflect the actual value that the market is giving companies.
In other words, a stock trading at $5 per share could have a total market capitalization of $2 billion, indicating that investors think the company is worth $2 billion. But a stock that’s trading at $15 per share could have a market cap of $300 million, meaning that it’s actually being valued way below the $5 stock.
For that reason, when I’m looking for cheap stocks to buy, I tend to focus on market cap more than per-share price.
Here are three small-cap stocks with exceptionally strong growth prospects. I believe that the market is meaningfully undervaluing these names, making them excellent stocks to buy.
Small-Cap Stocks to Buy: JinkoSolar (JKS)
It’s hard to believe that the world’s top seller of solar panels has a market cap of under $1 billion, but it’s true. According to the market, JinkoSolar (NASDAQ:JKS) stock is worth less than $1 billion, even though solar energy is rapidly growing around the world, and despite the fact that it reported that its solar cells in January reached record high efficiency levels, while it has won multiple awards due to the high quality of its modules. Additionally, JKS has signed a huge module supply deal with one of the largest utilities in the world, America’s NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE). NEE is extremely gung-ho on solar energy.
I think it’s pretty unusual for a company with a market cap of less than $1 billion to sign a huge deal with a company that’s valued at nearly $100 billion (NEE’s market cap is $95 billion). Just the NEE deal alone, in combination with the tiny market cap of JKS stock, makes JKS stock a great small-cap stock to buy.
Moreover, by most measures, the valuation of JKS stock is ridiculously low. Its forward price-earnings ratio, based on analysts’ average 2019 earnings per share estimate, is less than ten, and its price-sales ratio is a tiny 0.1.
Those who are bearish on JKS stock tend to hang their hats on two issues: the slowdown of solar growth in Jinko’s home market of China and the company’s lack of free cash flow. But after dragging its feet on solar-energy policy for a year, Beijing approved almost 15 gigawatts of solar projects, and Reuters recently reported that the country’s government will allocate $435 million of subsidies to the sector. Research firm Roth Capital has estimated that the country could install 30 gigawatts of solar energy in the second half of this year, versus 44 gigawatts in all of 2018.If that forecast is even close to accurate, JKS stock will definitely rally going forward.
As for the free cash flow issue, the company’s free cash flow has been weighed down by the construction of its Florida factory, completed this year. That factory will enable JKS to sell modules to Next Era Energy, and hopefully other major U.S. utilities, without paying tariffs on them. The company also plans to spend $400 million-$450 million to increase its production of premium solar panels in order to meet higher demand for them. JKS’ gross margins on those panels are much higher than on the less efficient modules.
Clearly, the investments that JKS has made in its Florida factory and in expanding its premium module capacity will be highly profitable for it over the medium-term and the long-term. In the medium-term, the company’s deal with Next Era, greatly increased demand for solar energy around the world, and higher gross margins from its premium panels will cause its FCF to turn positive, boosting JKS stock.
American Superconductor (NASDAQ:AMSC) is another company with a small-cap stock (it has a market cap of less than $225 million) and world-class technology and customers. AMSC has sold its Wind Turbine electrical control systems to Inox Wind , which says that it is India’s leading wind-energy company and has manufacturing capacity of 1,600 megawatts and three plants. AMSC has won two orders from the U.S. Navy for its highly energy-efficient degaussing system which protects vessels from mines “while reducing the weight of the degaussing system by 90% and reducing energy consumption by more than half that of legacy degaussing systems,” AMSC stated.
And in a project partially funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, AMSC in October 2018 announced that Illinois electric utility ComEd would use its high-temperature superconductor technology to strengthen Chicago’s electric grid.
Finally, in March and April. AMSC announced a total of $20 million in orders for its D-VAR STATCOM system, which regulate the supply of electricity based on demand and help connect wind power plants to the grid.
Going forward, AMSC stock should benefit from the Navy’s plan to add 25 new ships by 2024 and its efforts to shift to all-electric ships. Also likely to help American Superconductor is the growth of wind power around the world. AMSC’s prestigious list of customers indicates that its technology is strong, and the company should benefit from its apparently close relationship with the U.S. government. All of these attributes, along with the very low market cap of AMSC stock, make it an excellent small-cap stock to buy.
El Pollo Loco
El Pollo Loco(NASDAQ:LOCO), a fast-food chain that specializes in Mexican-style grilled chicken, has an opportunity to grab a great niche and benefit from several strong trends. The market cap of LOCO stock is around $400 million.
Many, if not most, Kentucky Fried Chicken stores no longer sell grilled chicken, and most smaller restaurants and chains seem to specialize in fried chicken (think Church’s and Popeye’s). Among chains, only Chick-Fil-A and Boston Market specialize in healthier grilled and/or roasted chicken that’s not part of a sandwich, taco or burrito. Boston Market is on the expensive side for fast food, and neither restaurant specializes in highly popular, Mexican-style fare.
El Pollo Loco’s chicken appears to be healthy, is definitely quite tasty (I’ve eaten there multiple times) and is rather affordable. In addition to Mexican-style chicken, it offers Mexican-style side dishes, such as beans, guacamole and pico de gallo. So El Pollo Loco can fill the apparently otherwise-unoccupied niche of a restaurant that specializes in affordable, Mexican-style, healthy, chicken that’s not served in a sandwich, taco, or burrito.
The company’s sales have risen meaningfully every year, and its gross income has also been on an upward trend, reaching $78.6 million last year. However, a large increase in its sales, general and administrative expenses hurt its profitability last year.
The company’s SG&A likely rose partly because it’s looking to intensify its marketing efforts, in order to become more widely known in the U.S. That makes sense, since it only owns and franchises less than 500 restaurants in six states, with 80% of its restaurants located in California.
In Q1, the company’s EPS, excluding some items, came in at 15 cents, and its comparable restaurant sales increased 2.4% YoY. while its revenue climbed 3% YoY.
LOCO said that its comp sales increase was driven by a 4.6% increase in the average check as it hiked its prices by 3%. However, the company indicated that its traffic fell amid bad weather in California.
Importantly for LOCO stock, the company is taking action on several fronts in an effort to communicate its value proposition and increase its traffic. The company launched a new ad campaign in March, including intensified TV ads, and hired Brian Wallunas as its new VP, Digital Marketing. Wallunas previously was Coca-Cola’s (NYSE:KO) Director of Marketing Technology, indicating that he is a tech marketing whiz who will be able to greatly improve the company’s loyalty, digital and social media efforts.
I believe that with these steps, El Pollo Loco will be able to communicate and widely disseminate its unique value proposition, thereby dramatically increasing its traffic and results and greatly boosting LOCO stock. Therefore, El Pollo Loco is a very good small-cap stock to buy.
As of this writing, the author owned shares of JKS and AMSC.