Warren Buffett recently told a group of investors that it was difficult to find bargain stocks at this point in the bull market. That's pretty easy to agree with. One, he's Warren Buffett. Two, the depth of the Great Recession was 101 months ago now, and the market seems to be touching new highs with regular frequency.
However, although it may be more difficult to find cheap stocks trading at bargain prices, that doesn't mean the opportunities don't exist. Investors looking for cheap stocks to buy today should give a closer look to Pacific Ethanol (NASDAQ:ALTO), Venator Materials (NYSE:VNTR), and General Motors (NYSE:GM).
A beaten-down ethanol stock
The United States will produce about 16 billion gallons of ethanol this year. Pacific Ethanol will contribute about 605 million gallons of that, which ranks pretty highly among the top producers in the country. Only four companies boast capacities exceeding 1 billion gallons per year.
That's important because scale is certainly needed to profitably compete in today's industry. Unfortunately, most producers struggled in the second quarter of 2017 due to excess production and high national inventories. Pacific Ethanol stock wasn't spared.
While there are some shorter-term obstacles to consider, the long-term future for ethanol looks pretty bright. The U.S. is the only country capable of feeding the world's growing appetite for renewable fuels. Indeed, exports are on pace to hit record levels in 2017, and that's before several terminals come on line in the next few quarters.
In addition to strong macro drivers, Pacific Ethanol stock is supported by quite a few attractive tangible and intangible metrics. The company has been investing in cleaning up the balance sheet, lowering production costs, and diversifying into higher-margin revenue streams including beverage alcohol in recent years. The improvements were largely hidden in the second quarter of 2017, but investors shouldn't overlook the potential.
Pacific Ethanol stock is trading at just 8.6 times forward earnings, 0.13 times sales, and 0.55 times book value. When all of its cost reduction measures are fully implemented -- expected to occur by the beginning of 2018 -- shareholders could be treated to $0.46 per share of additional income per year. It has reported earnings per share of negative $0.31 in the last 12 months. Several ethanol stocks look pretty cheap today, but Pacific Ethanol may have the most to gain in the next 24 months.
This market is booming
Venator Materials is the newest titanium stock you can buy. That's because it was recently spun out from Huntsman Corporation ahead of the former parent's merger with Clariant. But timing is at once the biggest boon and biggest obstacle for this cheap stock.
Why? Selling prices for titanium dioxide -- the company's main product -- have been booming in recent months. Peers Chemours Co. and Kronos Worldwide have seen their stocks soar in 2017 as a result. However, Venator Materials is still in the process of shedding some of the cost and operational inefficiencies from being part of a much larger company, which has kept it from enjoying titanium dioxide's recovery thus far.
That could be about to change. Venator Materials quietly published its second-quarter 2017 financial results with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Aug. 28. Operating income swung from a loss of $22 million in the year-ago period to a profit of $59 million this year. That resulted in an operating margin of 10% for the quarter. While certainly a solid improvement, the performance of peers suggests there's plenty of room to run. Kronos Worldwide and Chemours Co. reported second-quarter 2017 operating margins of 15.8% and 16.2%, respectively.
Wall Street seems to agree that better days are ahead. Analysts think Venator Materials stock is trading at just 8.3 times future earnings. Kronos Worldwide and Chemours Co. trade at 12.9 times and 10.4 times future earnings, respectively. That hints that this is the cheapest way to own a piece of the titanium bull market that has been years in the making.
Auto stocks are ridiculously cheap
General Motors has announced consistent earnings growth in recent quarters, which has pushed the stock up from its early January 2016 lows. Although the price-to-earnings ratio has risen as a result, it's still at historically low levels. Today, the American auto leader trades at just 5.7 times earnings. Wall Street's earnings expectations for the next 12 months puts the stock at only 6.0 times future earnings.
Why is the stock so cheap? Good question. It likely has to do with questions about whether the current cycle for the auto industry has peaked. There's a strong argument that that is indeed the case.
However, General Motors (and other American automakers) has been preparing its balance sheet and operations for the next downturn. Management thinks it can weather a 25% drop in new-car sales while maintaining profitable operations and the current dividend, which yields a gaudy 4.2%. If you're looking for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to buy a leading American business, then this may be your chance.