The market can sometimes lose track of companies that are no longer showing signs of growth or are waiting in the wings as they work on their next strategic move -- and sometimes stocks can fall to ridiculous values as a result.
Three of our investors think General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), Kroger Co (NYSE:KR), and Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) have been overlooked and are now great buys for investors willing to wait for the market to appreciate their long-term growth plans.
No love for this automaker
Jeremy Bowman (General Motors): There's no sector more misunderstood than autos. The two most valuable American car companies today aren't any of Detroit's Big 3, but Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) and Uber Technologies, two profitless start-ups. Investors have gone for forward-thinking transportation companies like these two, but they're overlooking some serious bargains among other automakers. General Motors (NYSE:GM) presents the best value of the bunch.
GM shares are unbelievably cheap, trading at a P/E multiple of just 5.5 compared to a P/E for the S&P 500 of 26. The market still seems to be punishing the Chevy-maker for its stint as "Government Motors" after it took federal bailout money during the financial crisis, and the Big 3 are generally decidedly unsexy in the eyes of Wall Street, even though GM is set to play just as much of a role in the autonomous vehicle revolution as Tesla, Uber, or anyone else.
Earlier this summer the company finished production of 130 self-driving Chevy Bolts, and claimed to be the only company capable of mass-producing autonomous vehicles. It also marked the first time autonomous cars were produced in a regular factory. GM's infrastructure gives it a decided advantage over rivals like Tesla, Uber, and Alphabet, as the company not only has the technology to go autonomous, but also the capability to produce millions of such vehicles. It's no slouch in electric, either, with the Bolt EV and the Volt, and its stake in Lyft gives it some skin in the ridesharing game.
Though the American car-buying cycle seems to have peaked, GM profits are still expected to grow this year thanks to sales of higher-margin trucks and SUVs. Keep your an eye on that pattern when the company reports second-quarter earnings on July 25.
A supermarket chain that's ready to do battle
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (Kroger): Supermarket giant Kroger is down by a third so far in 2017, and that could spell opportunity for long-term investors. Sure, Wall Street has had good reasons to punish the stock lately: for one thing, the retailer's growth is down from its market-thumping 5% pace in 2015 to roughly zero today.
The decline isn't all due to price deflation, either. In a conference call with investors last month Kroger executives explained that, while market share is up so far in 2017 (continuing an impressive streak of 12 years of gains), people are increasingly purchasing groceries from other sales channels. Kroger is working to redefine its market share metric to better capture its full range of competitors, which includes e-commerce specialists. The result could show a flat or declining market position.
Yet Kroger isn't vulnerable to a price-based challenge. Its profit margin is already consistently below 2%, compared to Costco's (NASDAQ:COST) 2.1% and Whole Foods' (NASDAQ: WFM) 2.5%. The supermarket chain decided two decades ago to be a price leader and has slashed prices by a cumulative $3.8 billion toward that goal since then. Management isn't tempted to change this defensible model now. "We have no intention of giving up the momentum we've gained on low prices," executives said in June.
The competitive challenge means Kroger will miss its long-term goal of achieving between 8% and 11% annual earnings growth in 2017. In fact, management is forecasting a slight profit decline this year. Profits should recover as industry conditions improve, though, as they have following other weak periods. That sets up an attractive bet for investors who disagree with Wall Street's dire consensus on this retailer.
Ratings are down but not out
Travis Hoium (Disney): Shares of Disney have been hampered by losses at its key ESPN unit over the past two years. And there's no question that ESPN made missteps in overpaying for sports content at the same time customers began cutting the cord. But ESPN's weakness may be short lived if the company plays its cards right, and focusing on that one unit overlooks Disney's strength overall.
To heal ESPN long-term, it could offer stand-alone subscriptions for $15 or more per month, or allow customers to pay for single game viewing. It owns some of the most valuable content in the world with NBA, NFL, NCAA deals, and more. One way or another, ESPN will find a way to get its content into people's homes.
And elsewhere at Disney, the business is running on all cylinders. The studio business includes Marvel, Pixar, and Lucasfilm on top of Disney's traditional studios and keeps pumping out hits. And as it does, it provides content that can be used at theme parks and on Disney's television networks. In the first six months of this fiscal year parks and resort revenue were up 8% and segment operating income was up 16%, showing the power of Disney's model.
Long-term, there's a lot to like about Disney's studio, network, and theme park model. And like ESPN, Disney has just started to explore monetizing content online. Right now, some of its movies are on Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) in a deal reportedly worth hundreds of millions per year. But there's no reason Disney couldn't go straight to consumers at the end of the day. What would the Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm libraries be worth in a monthly fee? $20? $40? It could certainly charge a premium, and with a massive catalog and more content being added each year the Disney studio and network business will find a way to thrive long-term.