Volatility has returned to the stock market. While individual investors are witnessing weekly or monthly swings of greater magnitude than at any other time during the current bull market, that's not entirely surprising given the historically expensive valuation of the S&P 500. That said, there are always bargains -- for those who know where to look.
Our contributors at The Motley Fool have unique expertise and experience in industries spanning every nook and cranny of the global economy, which means they're usually quick to spot patterns and opportunities, including stocks trading at undeniably low valuations. That's why we asked three contributors to suggest their top value stocks for December. Here's why they chose Kronos Worldwide (KRO 1.61%), Columbus McKinnon Corporation (CMCO 4.44%), and Verizon Communications (VZ 0.70%).
This one's a head-scratcher
Maxx Chatsko (Kronos Worldwide): Wall Street has been freaking out about the growth prospects for titanium dioxide -- a pigment used in food, consumer product, and coating applications -- for all of 2018. That marketwide anxiety has sent shares of the world's leading titanium dioxide producers sharply lower this year, including a 53% drop for Texas-based Kronos Worldwide.
While Wall Street thinks another cyclical collapse caused by oversupply is on the horizon, the numbers certainly don't back up that argument. Chemours Company, another leading producer, stated earlier this year the global market was staring at a 200,000-metric-ton deficit for 2018. It looks a bit more balanced today, but predicting oversupply is a big stretch. That makes the titanium dioxide industry ripe for bargain-hunting individual investors.
Consider the operating performance of Kronos Worldwide through the first nine months of 2018. Compared with the year-ago period, revenue increased 2%, gross profit jumped 18%, and operating income soared 26%. What's more, the company achieved that with 15% lower sales volume this year compared with the first nine months of 2017. In fact, the business took advantage of higher average selling prices this year to schedule maintenance for its facilities (reducing production volumes) and to implement a new global enterprise resource planning system across its portfolio (reducing sales volumes as the system ramped up).
How's that performance through the first three quarters of 2018 worth a 53% haircut in share price? Investors can't know the answer, but they can salivate over valuation metrics. Kronos Worldwide stock now trades at just 1.6 times book value and 3.4 times EV to EBITDA -- both around 65% lower than the beginning of the year. A sliding share price has also pushed the stock's dividend yield to a healthy 5.4%. Given the strong pricing fundamentals in the global and domestic markets, as well as the potential for Kronos Worldwide to hit the ground running in 2019 following a year of operational upgrades, this is a top value stock to buy in December.
This small-cap stock could be ready to rebound
Todd Campbell (Columbus McKinnon Corp.): A restructuring that's reducing expenses is allowing Columbus McKinnon's management to pay down debt and boost R&D spending on industrial automation products like smart hoists. If the company executes on its strategy, then picking up shares now while they're in the bargain bin could pay off.
In its fiscal second quarter, the company's operating margin increased 2.4% to 11.4%, and its adjusted earnings per share grew 37% to $0.70. Management says it has "identified approximately $7 million in potential savings for fiscal 2019 alone," and its results so far this year reflect savings of only $1.6 million. As management's cost cutting continues, it expects EPS to grow at a double-digit annual rate over the next three years.
Margin growth and low-to-mid-single-digit sales growth allowed it to eliminate $60 million in debt in fiscal 2018, and it plans to pay down an additional $60 million in debt this fiscal year. The company thinks it can generate $65 million in free cash flow by 2021, up from $55 million in fiscal 2018, and if so, then it should be able to meet its R&D spending target of $27 million in fiscal 2021, up from $16 million in fiscal 2017.
If the company is successful in meeting its profit goals and can tap into new growth by developing new products for automated workplaces, then this could be a good time to buy shares because they're arguably cheap. Shares have fallen about 23% since July, and as a result Columbus McKinnon is trading at less than 11 times next year's earnings and less than one times trailing 12-month sales. Its price-to-book ratio of 1.86 appears reasonable, too.
Overall, if industrial production continues to increase and automation spending climbs, I suspect this company's share price will rebound as its financials improve.
The wireless stalwart
Travis Hoium (Verizon): Leading telecommunications company Verizon Communications has long been an overlooked stock on the market, and I think it's become one of the best value stocks investors can buy today. The company has 116.9 million wireless subscribers, and considering how addicted most of us are to our phones, that's a large and stable business to be in. You can see below that revenue and net income have been stable or growing and free cash flow has been solidly positive over the last five years.
The reason free cash flow isn't better is because Verizon has been laying the expensive framework for its 5G network, which has launched in limited markets. But that's a great investment for long-term investors. 5G should enable Verizon to increase prices on premium customers and drive new wireless technologies like self-driving cars and virtual reality that will increase the number of wireless connections customers have. The first 5G product to hit the market is actually 5G home, which is a home wireless product that competes with broadband. Being able to offer home broadband wirelessly will expand Verizon's market potential and should drive incremental growth, which is just the beginning of innovations with 5G wireless.
Verizon's stock currently trades for 12.5 times estimated 2018 earnings, and shares come with a 4% dividend yield. Given the growth potential of 5G wireless, I think Verizon is a great value stock in today's market with a lot of long-term growth potential.