The Market's Cheapest Stocks

I heard a great quote recently: "There're only two positions to be in right now: cash, and fetal."

Ah, yes, Fools … there's blood in the streets. Anyone else smell a great buying opportunity? Me, too.

Mr. Market's pretty bummed out these days, and probably for good reason. Banks such as Citigroup (NYSE: C  ) and even Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) trade as if their days might be short-lived. Unemployment, deflation, inflation, stagflation, recession, depression: The market has a zillion excuses to keep selling off.

Sure, it's entirely possible that things will continue to be an utter disaster for quite some time, but that doesn't mean there aren't some incredible opportunities popping up right now in individual stocks that have been sold off beyond reason.

Well, yeah, but stocks keep falling
I know, it's tough these days. In this kind of market -- where the future is murkier than it's been in decades -- investors would be wise to keep in mind three words that Ben Graham and Warren Buffett formed the backbone of their careers on: margin of safety. The idea is pretty simple: You want a huge buffer in the price you pay for your investments in case your analysis -- or the economy -- goes horribly astray.

One good way to give yourself a fat margin of safety is to look for stocks trading near or below their net cash value -- that's total cash minus debt. The idea here is that you're purchasing stocks that are so cheap that the market is essentially giving you the ongoing business for free, sometimes less than free.

Normally, you'd be hard pressed to come across such situations; hedge funds and other vulture investors scarcely allow stocks to become so cheap. The good news is that these are hardly normal times. As investors around the world stop caring about fundamentals and start caring about cash under their mattresses, some stocks are now trading at valuations that just completely defy logic.

Buy one, get three free
After the market's latest carnage, I've found these stocks trading near or below their net cash on hand:

Company

Recent Share Price

Net-Cash Per Share

Market Cap

Year-to-Date Plunge

2009 EPS Estimates

Harvest Natural Resources (NYSE: HNR  )

$5.32

$3.60

$170 million

(57%)

$0.58

K-Swiss (Nasdaq: KSWS  )

$11.78

$8.07**

$412 million

(35%)

($0.09)

Health Net (NYSE: HNT  )

$9.91

$14.17*

$1.0 billion

(79%)

$1.97

Humana (NYSE: HUM  )

$30.32

$26.85*

$5.1 billion

(60%)

$5.92

Acme Packet (Nasdaq: APKT  )

$3.60

$2.30

$203 million

(73%)

$0.26

*Includes short-term investments.

**A special dividend of $2.00 per share will be paid to shareholders of record on Dec. 10.

I'm not recommending you go out and buy these stocks today -- you'll have to complete your own due diligence. Those stocks are in no way risk-free -- businesses have been known to burn through cash before -- but these are companies where the odds of losing substantial amounts of money are extremely low. Even better, almost all of those companies are expected to be profitable in 2009, so you're essentially getting the ongoing assets of the company for free.

The Foolish final word
As hedge funds and investment banks deleverage, mutual funds scramble to meet redemptions, and investors stop paying attention to the fundamentals, there are some ridiculous bargains being created that are undeniably cheap regardless of what the economy does in the next few years.

If you want a good starting point on where to find some of those screaming bargains, check out Motley Fool Inside Value. You can try the service free for 30 days to see what our analysts are recommending right now. There's no obligation to subscribe. Just click here to get started.

Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Harvest Natural Resources. Bank of America is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.


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