Whether you realize it or not, you're a witness to the longest-running bull market in American history. As of last Wednesday, Aug. 22, the market entered its 3,453rd day of expansion without a bear market (20%-plus) pullback. And earlier this week, the S&P 500 closed at another all-time high, completely erasing the late-January/early-February pullback that marked the S&P 500's 36th correction of at least 10% since 1950.
With such incredible optimism come higher valuations. In January, prior to the S&P 500's correction, the forward P/E of the broad-based index was at its highest level in more than 15 years, according to research provided by market analytics firm Yardeni Research. This suggests that finding a good value isn't nearly as easy as it once was for investors.
These one dozen industries may offer value in a long-running bull market
However, not all industries have been necessarily getting pricier on a forward-earnings basis as the rally has motored higher. Here are 12 industries that are cheaper now on a forward P/E basis (as of Aug. 16, courtesy of Yardeni Research) than they've been in a long time.
- Advertising: forward P/E of 12.1, lowest since 2012
- Household appliances: forward P/E of 7.8, lowest since 2011
- Homebuilding: forward P/E of 8.3, lowest since 2006
- Packaged foods: forward P/E of 15.5, lowest since 2012
- Drug retail: forward P/E of 10.7, lowest since 2008
- Tobacco: forward P/E of 14.9, lowest since 2014
- Brewers: forward P/E of 13.4, lowest since 2014
- Healthcare distributors: forward P/E of 10.8, lowest since 2009
- Construction machinery & heavy trucks: forward P/E of 10.4, lowest since 2013
- Semiconductor equipment: forward P/E of 10.8, lowest since 2011
- Steel: forward P/E of 8.9, lowest since 2012
- Telecom services: forward P/E of 10, lowest since 2008
Value is in the eye of the beholder
Understandably, many of these businesses have benefited from lower corporate tax rates tied to the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as well as stronger growth in the U.S. economy. But not all of these cheaper industries are necessarily worth a look.
For example, despite rising home prices, home sales have fallen in four of the past five months. Worse yet, we witnessed an 11.8% decline in home and condominium sales in California in June. As noted by CNBC, the weakness in the United States' leading housing market was especially apparent in newly built homes, which were 47% below the historic June average, going back to 1988. Thus, while homebuilders are cheaper than they've been in 12 years, there's valid reason for concern.
By a similar token, advertisers are facing monumental challenges in reaching consumers. Traditional print ads aren't what they once were, and digital ads have to compete for eyeballs with ad blockers growing in prevalence. Not to mention, advertisers are dependent on a strong economy, and we are, likely, late in the economic expansion cycle. It's another industry that could be worth avoiding, despite its relative "cheapness."
Three industries worth a closer look
There are, however, a few industries that I believe could be worth a much closer look given their depressed valuations, based on forward P/E.
1. Household appliances
To begin with, household appliances averaging less than a forward P/E of 8 have me intrigued. This is an industry that's been hammered in recent quarters by tariff and trade-war fears, as well as shaky consumer demand.
In particular, I'm eyeing Whirlpool (WHR -1.24%), which has done a good job of pushing into Asia, a region of the world with a substantially higher growth rate. Though Whirlpool has struggled in the U.S. due to higher raw material costs, weakness shouldn't persist too long as consumers adjust to higher prices from a well-recognized, brand-name appliance maker. From a valuation perspective, Whirlpool hasn't had a forward P/E this low in 10 years. Considering its healthy cash flow and profitability, I'd suggest it could make for an excellent bargain here.
2. Telecom services
Another steep bargain can be found with telecom service providers. Traditionally, telecom service providers are slower-growth companies that face tough competition, making them less appealing in a relatively low-interest-rate, high-growth environment. But I have my eye on AT&T (T -0.27%).
Just saying the name AT&T might make growth investors yawn, but there's little denying the market share, brand power, and operating cash flow of AT&T. In its most recent quarter, AT&T "underperformed" Wall Street as the result of an accounting change but still managed to add new broadband and video subscribers.
More importantly, AT&T completed its acquisition of Time Warner in June, giving it access to TNT, CNN, and TBS. AT&T is expected to use these prized assets as leverage, along with the rollout of 5G networks, to court wireless cable service subscribers in the quarters that lie ahead. It's for these reasons that I believe it could be a sneaky good value play.
A third industry that could offer value is tobacco. Stocks in the tobacco industry have been blasted in recent quarters, as efforts to move to smokeless products haven't met Wall Street's lofty expectations. Meanwhile, volume of traditional tobacco products has been on a steady decline in developed countries. Despite these concerns, Philip Morris International (PM -1.46%) has my full attention.
What investors often overlook with tobacco stocks is their ability to pass along price hikes to consumers. The addictive nature of nicotine allows Philip Morris to maintain strong pricing power and grow sales even in the face of persistent cigarette volume declines.
Philip Morris should also benefit from the expansion of its iQOS heated tobacco device in the years that lie ahead. Though iQOS may have plateaued in Japan, this represents just one of many developed markets. Plus, adjusting its marketing campaign to target those over age 50 could lead to markedly stronger sales results. With a yield that's approaching 6%, Philip Morris could smoke the broader market in the years to come.