Much of the discussion in the investing world right now seems to be centered on whether the near-decade-long bull run is done and whether stocks will soon head lower into bearish territory. However, with sell-offs hitting the market, there are companies that trade at significant discounts relative to both their recent valuations and long-term potential, and patient investors have an opportunity to establish positions in great businesses and reap the rewards over the long haul.
We put together a panel of Motley Fool contributors and asked each member to profile a stock that looks like a bargain at current prices. Read on to see why they think Stamps.com (STMP), Activision Blizzard (ATVI 1.97%), and Baidu (BIDU 6.24%) offer great bang for your buck.
The check's in the mail
Rich Smith (Stamps.com): I'm probably biased on this one (because I own it), but I really do believe that Stamps.com is absurdly cheap right now.
Obviously, that's not a popular opinion. Stamps.com stock sold off last month after reporting a big decline in Q3 earnings -- net income plunging 28% to $33.4 million. But here's the thing: That "decline" in "earnings" came about entirely as a result of Stamps.com suffering a larger tax bite, with Q3 income taxes swinging from negative $11.4 million to positive $9.3 million. But for that change in tax rates, Stamps.com would have done just fine in Q3, with sales rising 25%, operating costs up just 10%, and operating profit, consequently, surging 31% year over year.
And even despite the blip in earnings, Stamps.com stock sells for less than 19 times earnings (and only about 15 times free cash flow) today. That's an absurdly cheap price to pay for a company that, according to Wall Street analysts, is set to grow earnings at 18% annually over the next five years.
When you consider too the smart acquisitions Stamps.com has been making lately -- its purchase of MetaPack in August for about 50% of Stamps' own price-to-sales ratio -- I don't think investors are giving this company's management enough credit for knowing how to grow the business wisely, and cheaply, too. As Stamps.com takes its largely U.S.-based business international, I see a great wide world of growth ahead for this shipping facilitator -- and big profits for investors who buy it at today's absurdly cheap valuation.
Level up with this video game stock
Demitri Kalogeropoulos (Activision Blizzard): With a decline of more than 20% in 2018, Activision Blizzard is one of the worst performers in the S&P 500 this year. But that stock price slump could turn out to be a classic example of an overreaction by short-term-focused investors.
Sure, the video game developer is facing challenges today. Its base of engaged gamers has declined for more than a year, and a few recent launches have underperformed management's targets. Yet the important parts of its business are as strong as they've ever been. User engagement just hit a record high of more than 50 minutes per day, and profitability continues to expand as gamers enthusiastically take up digital downloads both for extra content and for full-game purchases.
Activision could come up a bit short of expectations in other releases, including in this year's Call of Duty launch. But investors shouldn't be surprised by the occasional stumble. After all, that reflects the developer's wider franchise portfolio, which now spans many different genres and monetization models, from one-time purchase to micro-transaction and from subscription to advertising-supported games.
Ultimately, it's likely that Activision will take advantage of valuable assets including its deep collection of intellectual property, along with promising new business lines like esports and advertising, to speed up sales growth and return the stock to its market-thumping ways.
An undervalued technology leader
Keith Noonan (Baidu): Chinese tech stocks won't be a great fit for every investor. With the possibility that the country's government will create roadblocks to growth or that slowdown for the country's economy will have a significant impact on the business outlook, there's typically a greater degree of uncertainty involved with these businesses than with their comparable American counterparts. That said, for investors who like the growth potential in the country's technology sector, Baidu looks like a great, cheap way to benefit from momentum in the space.
The internet search giant's share price has slipped more than 20% this year and trades down roughly 5% over the last three years. The sell-offs, combined with steadily impressive earnings growth, have pushed the company's forward price-to-earnings ratio down to roughly 18.5 -- a level that looks pretty appealing in the context of Baidu's solid core business and its opportunity to see big growth with tech trends like artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.
Investors are right to be concerned about the potential impact that Chinese government involvement in the technology and content spaces can have on business performance, but the extent to which some companies are positioned to benefit from China's more active role in shaping the industry appears to be underappreciated. Baidu actually has a pretty close relationship with the country's government, with the two entities sharing data and working cooperatively for artificial intelligence projects and China adopting Baidu's operating system for autonomous vehicles as the standard national platform.
That doesn't mean that regulatory initiatives won't create problems for the tech giant's business, as demonstrated by the advertising scandal that the company has worked through in recent years. However, Baidu is poised to be a key player in the evolution of technology in the country -- and shares are looking cheap at current prices.