Market capitalization is a lot like the human body. It comes in all shapes and sizes, and it consists of roughly two-thirds water. Rare is the well-toned specimen that's defined more by its muscle than its fat content.
You see cash-rich companies everywhere. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) brings $38.7 billion in cash and short-term investments along with another $14.2 billion in long-term investments to the table. What about the rest of the company's $230 billion market cap? Water.
Naturally, by "water" I mean the premium given to a company that has dominated the software space with juicy margins to boot, above and beyond its liquidity. Naturally.
But wouldn't it be great if you had great stocks out there living life a little closer to the waterline? Impossible, you say? Darwin would go batty, you cry? Yes, it does happen. Good, solid companies with asking prices not too far off the amount of greenbacks in their coffers do exist. Green gene stocks, I call them.
It isn't always under the best of circumstances that these critters see the light of day. In the world of mid-cap and large-cap equities, it's often a severe jolt to the fundamentals, like missing a hurdle or scandalous accusations, that creates the opportunity. In the more exciting world of small caps, sometimes it's just a matter of analyst neglect.
Have you ever noticed that no matter how bad things seem to get for Apple Computer (Nasdaq: AAPL), the stock's slide tends to slam the brakes as it approaches the low teens? That's because the company sports an enterprise value of pocket change, after you back out its net cash of a little more than $11 a share. As long as any dips into the cash burn cookie jar are seen as temporary, that cash cushion is there for the pushing.
As bad as things appear to be for fellow PC maker Gateway (NYSE: GTW), investors aren't having much of a cow at these levels, where the billion-dollar market cap equals what the company says it will sport in balance sheet green by year's end. Gateway's muddy fundamentals are why the market is pricing the stock down to the point where the company itself is worthless. While it's not all that inspiring, there has to be some degree of comfort in looking at a stock already marked down for failure. You can buy the cash cow and get the milky promise of an unknown future for free with Gateway.
But let's move away from these green giants, where the carnage is as real as it is widely publicized. There are some true gems in the small-cap space that come with mighty dowries and much less baggage. They're ignored on Wall Street, in part because they have no need to drum up the underwriting business. They fall by the wayside of stock screens because their return on assets (ROA) and return on equities (ROE) are pathetic. With good reason, too, because that idle sandbag of cash can only muster a puny amount of interest income.
I've found many intriguing candidates. So many that while I will share a few green gene stocks now, odds are that I'll be working on a sequel by the time you read this. Keep in mind that high cash levels are not enough. There has to be some degree of consistency or a catalyst for improvement. Consider ARTISTdirect (Nasdaq: ARTD), an online music company with $30.8 million in debt-free liquidity. That breaks down to a whopping $8.80 a share in cash, more than the company traded for last week. The problem here is that ARTISTdirect could be booked on arson charges for the way it has treated its legal tender. A year ago, the company's cash levels were close to $80 million. As a matter of fact, the company has an accumulated deficit of $166 million since it set up shop. That's not going to cut it with me -- not unless we're tapping obscene gene stocks.
Here are a few that are far more worthy:
Vulcan International (Amex: VUL) -- Live long and prosper seems to be the Vulcan way of life. With as much green on its debt-free balance sheet as the company's market cap, one would be hard-pressed to believe that the company has carved out a profitable living over the past few quarters, toiling away in rubber products and bowling pins. The bonus here is that if you tack on the company's long-term investments of $40.7 million to its cash position, you have nearly twice what Vulcan is going for in the open market. Granted, the company is rich in assets like Michigan timberland, and has a stock portfolio that would be subject to taxes if liquidated, but it's hard to fathom the kind of fiscal calamity that would send the shares much lower. The company has paid out a $0.20-a-share quarterly dividend for years now, giving the stock a higher yield than your garden variety money market fund. While the upside might appear limited beyond its liquidation value, given the company's sleepy operations, Vulcan's stock seems to offer a low-beta, seemingly low-risk dip into the equity wading pool.
Equity Marketing (Nasdaq: EMAK) -- If you don't know Equity Marketing, get thee to a Burger King and order a Kid's Meal. The company makes the toy premiums that come with every order. The fact that this contract makes up the bulk of the company's revenue may seem troubling, especially when one considers that Burger King ownership is about to change hands. However, the company has used its deep pockets to acquire the necessary diversification. It has also used its money to buy back its shares aggressively. Last week, the company posted better-than-expected second-quarter results, pegging its full-year earnings to come in between $1 and $1.25 a share. With nearly $4 a share in cash on a fully diluted basis, you have a company whose enterprise value is fetching a single-digit multiple off this year's projected earnings.
Register.com (Nasdaq: RCOM) -- Selling domain names was supposed to be the perfect business. Web professionals, hobbyists, and speculators staked dot-com claims, which made for great repeat business for registration specialists. The only problem is that folks ditched their online adobes like bogus lakefront real estate. With two-thirds of the site's users letting domain names expire, the company had to grow its services to move ahead with those who cared. However, Register.com has been consistently profitable through all of this. Profit growth is expected to return next year, and, until then, the green genes are strong. The company closed out its March quarter with $209 million in cash, short-term investments, and marketable securities. That's better than $5 a share, and even through the past two years of Internet meltdown, the stock never fell below that mark. The company's not far from that cushion right now, with a great deal of upside possible if business picks up again.
Paulson Capital (Nasdaq: PLCC) -- If selling domains in a tepid market is tough, imagine trying to sell investments. Paulson Capital is a small, full-service brokerage firm. Sure, the company's performance has been spotty over the past few quarters, but the losses have been relatively small. With $24.2 million in green -- or $7.56 a share -- the company is trading at less than its liquid worth. As nervous investors have flocked to cash, Paulson has it in strides. The firm isn't going anywhere. It's been around since 1970. Patient investors willing to sit out the rain delay will be doing so with a great cash umbrella, and, no doubt, one of the most receptive sectors to the eventual market recovery.
That's just a few of the many intriguing small caps flush with vast amounts of cash relative to their market caps. I started a Green Gene Stocks discussion board about these marvels. Join me there to check out more.
They may be absent the debt (and chromosomes), but isn't that all the more reason to slide these green genes under your microscope?