LONDON -- Warren Buffet has famously said to "be greedy when others are fearful and be fearful when others are greedy."
That's easier said than done, though. Cheap companies are usually cheap for good reason. But if you look hard enough, you can find some gems.
Here are three high-quality companies the market has thrashed recently -- but which look good to me.
1. Bekaert SA
Bekaert (NASDAQOTH: BEKAY.PK) is a Belgian metal transformation company founded in 1880. It is the world's largest independent manufacturer of drawn steel wires and a leader of innovation within its field. One out of four tires in the world uses the Bekaert tire cord.
With the shares trading at 21 euros, the company's market capitalization is 1.2 billion euros.
Since January, Bekaert shares have dropped 76% from their 88 euro all-time high to 21 euros. The fall was prompted mainly by the collapse of the sawing-wire market in China, which represents 50% of Bekaert's profits. Bekaert's profits fell by 48% from 399 million euros in 2010 to 207 million euros in 2011.
Still, Bekaert posted organic growth of 5% in 2011. Decreased demand in Europe and North America was offset by increased growth in Latin America and Asia-Pacific. Last year, 75% of Bekaert's sales came from emerging markets.
I think Bekaert is quite undervalued, given that it has more than doubled its profit and averaged a 9% return on invested capital during the past 10 years. Right now, the price to book is 0.7, the P/E is six, and the yield is 5%. I reckon growth in emerging economies with a largely untapped tire-cord market, such as India and Russia, will more than make up for slower growth in other regions.
Mobistar (NASDAQOTH: MBSRY.PK) is the third-largest cellular company in Belgium, with a market share of 29%. Some 51% of the company is owned by France Telecom.
With its shares at 25 euros, Mobistar's market cap is 1.5 billion euros.
Mobistar's share price has already fallen by more than half from its 52-week high, as 2011 results showed turnover down by 0.4% and after-tax profits down by 16%.The outlook for the year continues to be negative as continuing regulatory pressure and an impending increase in competition from a new 3G operator are expected to hurt profit further.
Current valuation multiples are at all-time lows, with a price-to-cash-flow ratio of three and a P/E of six. The yield is very attractive at 13%, while the balance sheet looks solid with net debt/EBITDA of 0.74.
In the last two years, Mobistar has invested heavily in developing new product lines for TV and Internet services and strengthening the quality of voice and data services. It has also initiated a cost-cutting program, which is expected to generate savings of 100 million euros in three years.
Over the past decade, Mobistar has generated high returns on equity (50%-plus), high returns on invested capital (38%), high operating margin (23%), and high free-cash-flow margin (20%) per year.
While the group's headline financials have deteriorated of late, Mobistar still saw total consolidated customers increasing by 4% and mobile Internet sales up by 26% last year. Management expects a 2% decrease in turnover and after-tax profit of 2.8 euros to 3.25 euros per share for the current year.
3. Ringkjobing Landbobank
Ringkjobing Landbobank is a regional bank that provides banking services in West Jutland, Denmark. It is one of Denmark's 15 largest banks in terms of total assets (18 billion Danish Kroner) and boasts a 50% market share in corporate and retail lending. It specializes in niche banking areas such as private-asset management and the financing of wind turbine businesses.
With shares trading at DK710, the company's market cap is DK3.5 billion.
Ringkjobing is conservatively managed and committed to generating high returns with minimal risk and low costs. In particular, the bank's 10-year average return on equity before tax is 21%, while its loan portfolio has grown by an annual compound rate of 11%. In addition, the average annual net loss compared to total loans has been only 0.05%. Ringkjobing's cost efficiency is also one of the best among Danish banks, with the 10-year average cost/income ratio at 37%.
Ringkjobing is strongly capitalized with a core capital ratio of 19% and solvency ratio of 21%. It has no exposure to Southern European debt and has insignificant levels of interest rate and foreign-exchange risks. It also has good liquidity, with excess cover of DK3.5 billion.
Since January, the share price has rallied by 28% from DK560 to DK710. The company has reported a 35% increase in earnings per share for the first half of the year after attracting greater private-banking and retail customers. Analysts estimate earnings of DK75 per share for the year, which gives a forward P/E of 10.
As I wrote earlier, there are usually good reasons for a share to trade at a certain price. Finding quality businesses on sale is never simple.
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