When any given stock trades at a steep discount to its true value, all too often, it's for a good reason. But sometimes, the market either gets it wrong or briefly offers investors a rare window of opportunity to pick up shares of great businesses for far less than they're worth.
So, we asked three top Motley Fool contributors to each discuss a stock that they believe is absurdly cheap right now. Read on to learn what they had to say about JD.com (JD -0.41%), Apache Corporation (APA 1.00%), and Baidu (BIDU -2.26%).
A compelling value in China if this cloud is lifted
Steve Symington (JD.com): Down 37% so far in 2018 and trading at just 0.6 times trailing-12-month revenue, shares of Chinese e-commerce leader JD.com have been absolutely hammered by a combination of U.S.-China trade tensions and -- much more troubling -- the arrest late last month of its founding CEO, Richard Liu, on an allegation of sexual assault in Minneapolis.
For perspective, Liu was released without bail and insists through his lawyers that he was falsely accused. Still, as of last Thursday, police had completed their investigation into the incident and passed it to prosecutors for review to determine whether he'll be charged.
To be clear, I would be uncomfortable buying JD.com stock if I don't believe in the morals of its executive leadership. And with a 16% stake in the company and 80% of its voting rights, Liu is widely considered a crucial piece of JD.com's long-term success. But if the allegation turns out to be baseless -- and with the caveat that there will be a certain level of suspicion that will surround the company regardless -- it should go a long way toward appeasing the market's concerns that JD can indeed live up to its status as the so-called "Amazon of China."
A screaming bargain in the oil patch
John Bromels (Apache Corporation): With crude oil prices on the rise, values are getting tougher and tougher to find among oil and gas producers. That's why it seems absurd that the market is overlooking a massive bargain like Apache.
Apache's entire investment thesis was turned upside down in 2016, when it announced a massive Permian Basin oil find called Alpine High in West Texas. The company had picked up the land on the cheap for about $1,300/acre. But when Apache announced how much oil and gas was underneath the land -- at least 3 billion barrels of oil and 75 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- land in the region started going for prices as high as $40,000/acre.
That means Apache's roughly 300,000 Alpine High acres are worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $8 billion to $10 billion. The rest of its Permian land -- all 2.5 million acres of it -- is worth a pretty penny, too, but the market is only valuing the entire company at about $17.6 billion right now. That seems dirt-cheap for a company that not only has extensive Permian operations, but also lucrative overseas production in the North Sea and Egypt, plus promising offshore exploration blocks in Suriname.
Not to mention, Apache has a best-in-class dividend yield of about 2.2%. That will help reward investors as they wait for the market to recognize what a bargain it's missing in Apache.
A search giant that's been cut down a size
Keith Noonan (Baidu): Like other Chinese tech stocks, Baidu has seen steep sell-offs as escalating tensions with the U.S. have pushed the country's stock market further into bearish territory. Broader market movements and a volley of tariffs between the two countries aren't the only concerns for shareholders. The company, which is often referred to as "China's Google," is looking even less appealing to some investors in light of reports that Alphabet is looking to fulfill that role itself by readying a specialized version of its search engine to reenter the Chinese the market.
Baidu has seen its share price dip roughly 15% over the last three months, and it now trades at roughly 21 times this year's expected earnings -- a level that looks pretty cheap in the context of the business's growth. As fellow Motley Fool contributor Leo Sun recently pointed out, Google won't able to simply waltz back in and disrupt the Chinese search market, and Baidu has a sturdy, high-growth business with strong tailwinds at its back.
Growth for the company's internet advertising business is driving big revenue and earnings gains, with sales in the company's June quarter climbing 32% year over year, operating income up 31% compared to the prior-year period, and net income up 45%. The Chinese consumer economy and spending on digital advertising will likely continue to grow at rapid clips, and iResearch estimates that the country's spending on online ads will have roughly doubled from 2017 through 2020. Baidu also has early leadership positions in autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, emerging product categories that could power the company's growth engine in the coming decade.
The Chinese search giant's stock could continue to see volatility in conjunction with the rest of the country's tech sector, but long-term investors have an opportunity to purchase a solid growth stock at a discount.
The bottom line
Of course, we can't guarantee that the share prices of these three companies will eventually reflect their true worth. But if the market recognizes the value of Apache's vast land holdings, JD.com can put its executive woes behind it, and Baidu keeps outperforming and innovating even as the broader Chinese stock market falls, we think chances are high that these three companies could deliver outsized returns for investors going forward.