The stock market was on a tear at the beginning of the year, making cheap stocks tougher and tougher to come by. But the market correction in early February stopped the upward momentum. Fortunately for investors, it unfairly punished some companies, pushing their shares down into bargain territory.
We asked three Motley Fool investors to identify stocks they'd classify as "absurdly cheap," and they picked Kulicke & Soffa Industries (KLIC -8.88%), Coherent, Inc. (COHR -0.32%), and Apache Corporation (APA 1.29%). Here's why.
A cheap small-cap stock
Tim Green (Kulicke & Soffa Industries): I highlighted semiconductor equipment manufacturer Kulicke & Soffa as a bargain small-cap stock way back in mid-2015. It's up about 84% since then, handily beating the overall market. Shares of Kulicke & Soffa have tumbled nearly 25% from their recent high despite solid results, creating an opportunity for bargain-hunting investors.
Kulicke & Soffa manufacturers semiconductor packaging equipment, used to encase semiconductor components and provide connections to outside components. The company dominates the market for wire bonders, but it also sells advanced packaging equipment that goes beyond its core business.
Over the past 12 months, Kulicke & Soffa generated $873 million of revenue and about $136 million of net income, after backing out a one-time charge related to the U.S. tax bill passed last year. The balance sheet is overflowing with cash, with a net cash position of $635 million at the end of the latest quarter. The cash-adjusted price-to-earnings ratio sits at just 6.5.
One thing to remember about Kulicke & Soffa is that demand for semiconductor equipment is cyclical. The company's bottom line can vary quite a bit from year to year, so that P/E ratio is somewhat deceptive. The good news is that Kulicke & Soffa has turned a profit in nine of the past 10 years, with an average GAAP net income of about $73 million. Using this average number, the cash-adjusted P/E ratio is 12, still cheap compared to the overall market.
If you can handle uneven and varying results, Kulicke & Soffa is a cheap stock to consider.
Set your sights on this bargain
Rich Smith (Coherent, Inc.): Really, if you're in the market for a bargain, there's no time to go shopping like the present. According to my stock screener, 438 separate stocks are now down 20% or more over the past month, and bargains are popping up like spring flowers. One of the bargains that has me intrigued today is laser maker Coherent.
On Feb. 8, Coherent stock lost 17% in a day after reporting earnings that beat estimates, but guidance that didn't. (Exactly what Coherent guided to wasn't 100% clear, but analysts apparently keyed in on rumblings about weakening gross margin.) Management assured Wall Street that its revenue stream remains intact, but that wasn't enough to keep investors from selling this stock down to a valuation of just $5.2 billion.
At that price, Coherent now sells for less than 24 times earnings -- and just 17.7 times trailing free cash flow. Relative to the stock's 17.5% long-term projected growth rate, that seems an attractive price to me (and not just because I see big things happening in the world of lasers). After a 17% drop on an earnings beat, Coherent stock is definitely cheaper than it should be.
A marvel of mispricing
John Bromels (Apache Corporation) After releasing Q4 and full-year 2017 earnings, shares of independent oil and gas exploration and production company Apache Corporation briefly dropped to their lowest levels since 2004. Although they quickly recovered a bit, they're still sitting below $36 per share, which indeed looks absurdly cheap.
It's not the first big drop for poor Apache this year. The company's shares also suffered a one-two punch after projecting lower-than-expected Q4 2017 production thanks to a third-party pipeline issue, followed by the February market correction. And yet, the company's Q4 earnings per share blew away analysts' expectations.
Instead of focusing on the company's improving earnings and margins, though, the market chose to focus on middling 2018 production guidance, as Apache continues to invest heavily in its monster Alpine High play in West Texas, which should come fully online this quarter. But beyond 2018, Alpine High production is expected to grow by leaps and bounds, so the market seems to be short-sighted here.
For the last few years, Apache's share price has largely tracked the spot price of WTI crude. But in recent months, the metrics have sharply diverged, further indicating that Apache may be significantly undervalued by the market right now:
The current oil price environment should put Apache on firm footing for outperformance. And when you factor Apache's best-in-class 2.8% current dividend yield into the mix, you get a stock with great prospects currently trading at a dirt-cheap price. It's a great time to buy.