U.S. stock markets are hovering near all-time highs, but it hasn't been an easy year. 2018 kicked off with a boom in January on corporate tax reform euphoria, followed by bust after investors started to worry over inflation and trade disputes. Many of those worries remain, and wide swaths of the stock market continue to struggle.
That could cause anxiety, but it also spells opportunity for investors looking for a deal. Even the high-flying tech sector sports some real bargains these days. Three worth your consideration are Applied Materials (AMAT -1.60%), Micron Technology (MU -2.44%), and Vodafone (VOD -3.84%).
Technology's building blocks on sale
While the technology sector has been on fire again this year, the most basic components of tech have struggled. Analysts have turned pessimistic on semiconductors, citing oversupply and possible weakness in pricing ahead, despite chipmakers' revenues and profits continuing to rise throughout 2018.
Negative comments on the industry have hit Applied Materials' stock. Shares of the equipment and materials engineer have been up and down, but they currently sit 25% lower than at the onset of 2018. Revenue and earnings are up 25% and 4% year to date, respectively, but management said sales could be flat for the year-end quarter.
The sell-off in Applied Materials looks overdone, though. Trailing and forward price to earnings are at 12 and 9.4, respectively. Price to free cash flow, which measures cash left over after basic operations and capital expenditures are paid for, is at 15.7. If you think technology will increase in importance in the years ahead, the stock looks like a steal to get in on a leading provider of the sector's most basic commodity.
Technology's building blocks, part 2
Micron has also been swept up in the recent semiconductor panning. After a multiyear run in which the stock doubled more than twice, shares have pulled back over 40% from their high-water mark.
It is expected that pricing for the memory chips on which Micron's business is based will fall through the first half of 2019 as overstretched supply from the last couple of years begins to catch up with demand. However, end-uses for digital memory continue to rise as industrial equipment, cars, and consumer goods continue to get internet connection-enabling equipment embedded in them. Nevertheless, investors will need to take a long-term outlook on Micron and other chip makers if the forecasted slowdown in growth plays out over the coming months.
After the pullback in shares, trailing price to earnings are at 4.5, and price to free cash flow is 6.8. That valuation prices is a lot of negativity, especially for a company that is aggressively paying off debt and getting ready to return large sums of cash to shareholders. Thus, in spite of uncertainty, Micron stock looks mighty cheap if you plan to hold for the long haul.
One of the best-paying telecoms on the block
Last up, we have U.K.-based Vodafone, which you might have heard of back in 2013, when Verizon (NYSE: VZ) bought back the 45% stake Vodafone owned of America's leading mobile network. Verizon had to pay a whopping $130 billion. Fast-forward a few years, and Vodafone remains one of the leading telecom service providers in the world, with operations in Europe, Australia, Africa, and India, and partnerships and affiliates spanning the rest of the globe.
That diverse mix of markets hasn't been a benefit this year, especially as emerging economies' stock markets have struggled. Added to that are ongoing worries over Brexit -- the details of which are still being worked out leading up to the U.K.'s scheduled March 2019 exit date. As a result, Vodafone's stock is down over 30% year to date.
However, that situation has created a cheap stock with a big payout; Vodafone's dividend yield currently sits at 8.3%. While price to earnings is at 21.5, price to free cash flow is only 9.2 and has been on the rise. That makes this global communications mover and shaker worth a look.
Playing defense with bargains
It's been a volatile year for investors, but big swings in share prices mean there are deals to be had even if the overall market fetches rich prices. If trade wars and other political news continue to roil markets, adding stocks already trading at a discount -- but that are still stable or growing -- can help offset pain. With beat-up share prices and a clear map for further growth, Applied Materials, Micron, and Vodafone look like names that could help accomplish that goal.