With all this talk of Dow 20,000 and the market's rise lately, I can understand why value investors looking to buy cheap stocks are getting frustrated with the lack of options out there.
You may not be able to throw darts at a wall to find cheap stocks, but there are still a few quality companies trading at pretty distressed prices. Three that stand out right now are solar panel manufacturer First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR), offshore rig owner Transocean (NYSE:RIG), and retailer Best Buy (NYSE:BBY). Here's a quick rundown of why the market seems to be mispricing these stocks, and why you might want to consider them for your portfolio today.
Solar will struggle 2017, but it won't for long
While we will typically associate the solar industry with astronomical growth, the reality is that the manufacture of solar panels and other solar power equipment is a viciously cyclical industry. A quick hiccup in panel demand coupled with the rapid expansion of manufacturing capability can send panel prices plummeting and take the profitability of manufacturers with it.
It's looking like 2017 is going to be one of those hiccup years for the solar industry. Utility customers had previously planned for the Investment Tax Credit to expire at the end of this year, so many projects were planned to be completed before year-end and not many completions in 2017. While that tax credit was extended at the end of last year, new project demand isn't expected to pick back up until 2018. If all of that wasn't tough enough, the election of Donald Trump has put many of these tax credits into question.
As a result, Wall Street has been absolutely punishing First Solar's stock this year. So much so that shares currently trade for an incredibly low price-to-earnings ratio of 6.2 times. That sounds pretty low already, but here's where it gets even crazier. First Solar has a little more than $2 billion in cash on the books, which means that each share of First Solar is worth $20.11 in cash alone. If we were to back out cash from its market capitalization, First Solar's stock trades at a P/E ratio of just 2.7 times.
I get it: 2017 is going to be rocky for solar developers and earnings will suffer mightily. If an investor is willing to look past a year or two of tough times, though, you'll find a company that leads its peers in returns on equity in an industry growing at exponential rates. What's more, it's selling at a fire-sale price.
Left for dead
On the other side of the energy spectrum are offshore rig companies. The past couple of years have been incredibly difficult for these companies as major producers have scaled back capital spending in this low oil price environment. This by itself wouldn't be the end of the world for any company in a cyclical business like rig owners, but almost all of them were in the middle of major investments in their fleets that was costing billions in capital spending. As a result, investors have fled faster than rats on a sinking ship.
This situation is what has shares of Transocean trading at a price to tangible book value of just 0.36 times. Basically, the market thinks its fleet of vessels is worth $0.36 on the dollar of their liquidation value. While it's true that some of its older rigs aren't worth much anymore, the fact of the matter is that too many investors view this company based on what it was a couple years ago and not what it is today.
Transocean was known for a while as a company with a fleet of vessels that were older than dirt and not up to par for the needs of deepwater drilling. Ever since CEO Jeremy Thigpen took the reins, though, it has scrapped dozens of its older vessels that didn't have contracts in place. As a result, its fleet's age has gone from one of the oldest on the oceans to having the largest fleet of ultra deepwater capable rigs. What's even more important is that it has done so while reducing its total debt load by 39% over the past five years.
Oil prices are starting to recover and producers are starting to open their wallets for capital spending again, but the offshore industry is likely going to be one of the last industries to recover. So don't be surprised if it takes a while for Transcoean's stock to recover. At today's bargain basement price, though, it looks like it could be worth the wait.
I can't believe I'm saying this
I'm just as surprised as anyone else that Best Buy is on a list of cheap stocks actually worth buying. But the numbers speak for themselves. A few years ago, the name Best Buy was a euphemism for e-commerce's punching bag as the company struggled mightily to cope with the intrusion of e-commerce. In 2012, however, CEO Hubert Joly took over the company and implemented several initiatives that spurred its monumental turnaround.
The turnaround has been spearheaded by a multitude of things, but they boil down to these four categories: price matching, improved customer service, cost cutting, and building out its own e-commerce presence. Implementing only one or two of these would have probably hurt the company, but the combination of all these initiatives have coalesced into a strategy that has produced results. While overall comps improved at a good-but-not-great pace of 1.8% last quarter, its e-commerce business grew revenue by 24% year over year. Also, consider that in the third quarter of 2015, e-commerce revenue had grown 18%, so this arm of the business is growing fast and showing it can hold its own against the likes of Amazon.com.
What's more important, though, is that this growth is finding its way to the bottom line. Those cost-cutting initiatives have helped to offset the declines in gross margins that would inevitably come from its price-matching guarantee. It's also worth noting that the company is generating loads of free cash flow that will support its $1 billion stock buyback program over the next two years.
Based on the company's stock price, however, it seems as though the market still treats this turnaround story with kid gloves. Sure, shares of Best Buy have gained 50% year to date, but the stock still trades at an enterprise value-to-EBITDA ratio of 5.2 times. Its P/E ratio of 14.2 doesn't look as impressive, but when you back out its $3.2 billion cash pile from its market cap, that P/E ratio drops to a much more attractive 10.4 times. At that price, it looks as though Best Buy will get a good price on its share repurchase program, and it suggests investors might want to take a look at this stock.