There's an old saying: "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." And with the stock market indices consistently trading at or near all-time highs, it's become even more important for investors to weigh the price they're paying with every dollar they invest.
With that idea in mind, we asked three of our top contributors to write about a stock they see as being a bargain today, and they gave us mortgage industry software lynchpin Ellie Mae Inc (ELLI), real estate holding company Store Capital Corp (STOR), and steelmaker extraordinaire Nucor Corporation (NUE -1.77%).
Keep reading to learn the surprising reasons these three stocks made the cut, and why you might be missing a perfect opportunity to invest in these wonderful companies.
An "expensive" stock that's a long-term bargain
Brian Stoffel (Ellie Mae): It sounds odd to call a stock trading for 80 times earnings a "bargain," but in Ellie Mae, I think we have an anomaly. I singled the company out as the stock I'd be putting my own money behind in May, so consider this the elevator pitch.
Ellie Mae provides a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform -- Encompass -- to facilitate mortgage transactions. Banks and real-estate brokers use it to track and store data and to ensure they are compliant with regulations.
Not only does the company benefit from high switching costs, but the network effect works in its favor as well. That's because those on the platform also include mortgage-related professionals like appraisers and title companies. The more loans conducted using Encompass, the more incentive others have to join Ellie Mae's rosters.
Still the stock fell 8% after earnings were recently announced. With rising interest rates, fewer people are refinancing their homes. Since about 35% of Ellie Mae's sales are based on the volume of transactions on its platform, that rightfully has some investors worried.
However, I would point out two things to long-term investors. First, if you hold a stock for long enough, then investing in cycles shouldn't worry you too much. At some point in the future, the mortgage market will heat up again. Further, while business might suffer over the short term, Ellie Mae continues to gain impressive market share. The number of seats booked on the platform increased 18% over the past year, even in the face of rising interest rates.
I look at the company's free cash flow ratio of 42 as a bargain for a company with such a wide moat that's gaining market share so rapidly.
A retail gem that's been cast aside
Brian Feroldi (STORE Capital): The markets have been selling off real estate investments trusts (REITs) as of late, especially those that have any exposure to the retail space. Given the threat of rising interest rates and the poor results of many big-box retailers, it's easy to understand why Wall Street is worried. Those fears have caused STORE Capital's shares to drop by more than 18% in the last month alone. The fall has pushed the company's dividend yield up to 5.6%, which I think makes this a value stock worthy of investors' attention.
STORE is an acronym for Single-Tenant-Operational-Real-Estate. The company specializes in leasing its 1,750 properties to medium-sized businesses that do not have a credit rating with a nationally recognized agency. While most of its customers are in good financial health, they are simply too small to issue rated debt in a cost-effective manner. This is a market many other REITs simply won't touch, which gives STORE a big edge over rivals and allows it to raise rents at a healthy pace.
STORE's business model might sound risky, but the company has put a number of measures in place to protect itself. First, it signs triple-net leases with its customers. This means the tenant is responsible for all maintenance and operating costs related to the building. STORE simply owns the property and cashes the rent checks, which limits its property level exposure. STORE also signs clients to long-term leases that are usually 15 years or more, which helps to keep its occupancy rates high (99.5% as of March 31, 2017). Finally, STORE requires the majority of its tenants to file quarterly financial reports, which allows it to constantly monitor the health of their businesses to stay ahead of weak spots.
Another investment trait to applaud is that STORE has taken measures to protect itself from the growing threat of e-commerce sales. The vasty majority of STORE's retail customers are services businesses (e.g., restaurants, health clubs, movie theaters, auto repair) that are not threatened by online sales.
In total, I think there is ample reason to believe STORE Capital is a strong business that is simply operating in an out-of-favor industry right now. That puts brave investors who buy today in a nice position to earn great total returns from here.
A "steel" of a deal
Jason Hall (Nucor): Shares of steelmaking giant Nucor are down 13% from their recent highs, and that's creating a wonderful opportunity for bargain hunters, considering that the company is set to deliver solid profit growth for years to come. Want some evidence? Look no further than the company's most recent earnings report, showing how Nucor reported its best quarterly profit in nearly a decade, and is on track to keep delivering solid earnings growth.
What's driving the boost for Nucor? A few things. First, after years of pressure from illegally subsidized foreign steel dumped into the U.S. market, trade actions are driving imports down and prices up, as importers must compete on a leveled playing field. This is boosting profits and volumes for U.S. steelmakers.
Second, and maybe more importantly, Nucor has been able to spend the past several years investing in improved products, expansion into new markets, and "bolt-on" acquisitions, while many of its peers struggled to rein in their expenses and generated big losses.
Add it all up, and today's Nucor is set to deliver big profit growth, while the market discounts the potential. Trading at 17 times last year's earnings and less than 13 times expected 2017 results, Nucor is both a bargain today and a wonderful company to own for the longterm.