With so many convoluted ways to make money in stocks today, from options to short-selling to day trading, all too often we forget the most tried and true method for beating the market: buying stocks for less than they're worth and holding for the long term.
To that end, we asked three top Motley Fool contributors to each pick a so-called "value stock" that they think investors would be wise to buy right now. Read on to see why they like Disney (NYSE:DIS), General Mills (NYSE:GIS), and YY (NASDAQ:YY).
Disney is just getting started
Steve Symington (Disney): Disney has traded roughly flat since mid-November, when I last suggested investors buy and hold shares of the entertainment conglomerate for the long term. But even ignoring its better-than-expected quarterly report earlier this month, there are multiple catalysts that could propel Disney higher.
For one, Disney's recently launched ESPN+ streaming service reached 2 million paid subscribers as of this quarter's call, doubling its number from just five months earlier, and The House of Mouse is poised to launch a similar Disney+ streaming service later this year. Perhaps most exciting for investors, Disney has promised more details at its upcoming investor day presentation on April 11 regarding both its direct-to-consumer strategy and the original content the Disney+ service will include. In any case, both streaming offerings will provide significant leverage for Disney to offset the negative impact of cord-cutters on its broadcast business.
What's more, 2019 could prove to be another banner year at the box office for Disney. Among its enviable big-screen releases this year are Captain Marvel and a live-action version of Dumbo in March, Marvel's Avengers: Endgame in April, a live-action rendition of Aladdin in May, Pixar's Toy Story 4 in June, a live-action version of The Lion King in July, Frozen 2 in November, and Star Wars: Episode IX in December.
Finally, there's Disney's pending $71.3 billion acquisition of most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, which the company now expects will close by June. Assuming all goes as planned, Disney will own a 60% stake in Hulu, up from 30% currently, as well as Fox's film and most of its TV studios, bringing properties such as Avatar, National Geographic, and Marvel's Deadpool, Fantastic Four, and X-Men franchises under its already massive wings.
For investors willing to pick up Disney shares today at a reasonable 15 times trailing earnings, and before these catalysts truly materialize, I think the stock represents one the market's most compelling bargains.
This food giant is dirt cheap
Reuben Gregg Brewer (General Mills): You know the brands, including iconic names such as Cheerios and Betty Crocker. But what you might not know is how startlingly cheap parent company General Mills looks today. The packaged-food maker's price-to-sales ratio is 1.6, notably below its five-year average of 2. Price-to-earnings is 12.7, versus the longer-term average of 20.5. And the price-to-book ratio is 3.9, compared with 6.4. General Mills looks dirt cheap.
But there's a reason. Customers have shifted away from pre-packed fare and toward "fresh" and "healthy" options. General Mills, around for more than a century, has successfully shifted along with customers before. It's buying brands that resonate with consumers, including Annie's, Larabar, and most recently pet-food maker Blue Buffalo. It's been selling lagging brands, such as Green Giant, and innovating within the rest of the portfolio. Change just takes time.
That said, the changes here have come at a cost, namely a material increase in leverage. General Mills paid $8 billion to buy Blue Buffalo, which some believe was too much. That acquisition pushed long-term debt up by 76% in a single quarter. Meanwhile, interest coverage has basically been cut in half, even though General Mills still comfortably covers interest costs more than four times over.
With a big, expensive deal like this, investors are right to be a little concerned. However, management has already started to trim debt and has pledged to hold off on dividend increases until leverage is at a more manageable level. Muddling through the integration process is really the worst-case scenario. In the meantime, investors can buy the stock on the cheap stock and collect its hefty 4.5% yield. That's a worthwhile risk/reward trade-off.
An underappreciated Chinese tech stock
Leo Sun (YY): The sell-off in Chinese tech stocks over the past year threw many babies out with the bathwater. One such baby was YY, the live-streaming-video provider, which grew its revenue and non-GAAP net income by 33% and 20%, respectively, last quarter.
YY's core platform, YY Live, hosts music, entertainment, sports, and e-learning videos. The company monetizes those user-generated videos by selling virtual gifts that viewers can purchase for their favorite broadcasters. YY also spun off its esports streaming site, Huya (NYSE:HUYA), in an IPO last year.
Momo's mobile-live-streaming monthly active users rose 21% annually to 88.1 million last quarter, and its mobile users generated nearly two-thirds of its live streaming revenue. Its number of paid live streaming users rose 26% to 8 million.
Analysts expect YY's revenue and earnings to 22% and 18%, respectively, next year. Those estimates, while slower than its growth rates this year, are still impressive for a stock that trades at 11 times forward earnings.
Analysts expect YY's annual earnings to grow at an average rate of 24% over the next five years. That gives it a five-year PEG ratio of 0.5. Since a PEG ratio under 1 is considered undervalued, YY's stock looks dirt cheap relative to its growth potential.
For now, YY's stock will probably remain weighed down by concerns about China, the government's ongoing crackdown on social and video platforms, and competition from new video apps. But over the long term, YY's stock should rebound back to more reasonable valuations.
Enjoy these discounts while you can
Nobody can guarantee that any stock will beat the market, no matter how undervalued we think it might be. But these contributors think Disney, General Mills, and YY are poised to do exactly that, and they believe long-term investors should put their money to work accordingly.