Value investors scour the market for cheap-looking stocks, typically with low price-to-earnings ratios or price-to-book ratios. This is opposed to growth stocks, which exhibit higher P/E and P/B ratios but also higher revenue growth.
Value investing hasn't fared very well in the current bull market. Low interest rates, combined with a healthy amount of technological disruption, have powered growth stocks, especially in technology, higher and higher, leaving value stocks in the proverbial dust. Over the past five years, the Russell 3000 growth index has gone up about 84.4%, while the Russell 3000 value index has increased only half that much, at 42.3%.
Nevertheless, over the (very) long term, growth stock returns are actually slightly lower than their value counterparts. Given that growth has had a great run over the past few years, investors may want to begin looking at beaten-down value stocks. Here are three excellently run companies that nevertheless display P/E ratios under 10.
Memory-chip maker Micron Technologies (NASDAQ:MU) has had an interesting go of it during the past year's trade spat. As one of only three producers of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) and one of six producers of NAND flash memory, Micron's earnings have been hit especially hard by the trade war and the May ban on sales to China's Huawei. In the first nine months of the current fiscal year 2019 (ends in August), Huawei totaled 13% of Micron's sales.
Additionally, extreme caution on the part of memory buyers has caused DRAM and NAND prices to plummet much further than the market expected this year. That, in turn, caused Micron's revenue to plunge 39% and its net income to fall a whopping 69% in the recently reported quarter.
However, the Trump administration just announced after the recent G20 meeting that it would soon allow American companies to sell equipment to Huawei for devices that aren't a threat to national security. That has helped boost Micron's stock significantly in the past two weeks, along with a better-than-feared earnings report.
Micron's stock is still languishing about 33% below its all-time highs set a year ago, and its current P/E ratio is just 4.6. That's because Micron's earnings are currently going down. In fact, its forward P/E ratio based on FY 2020 estimates is more than three times that, at 15.
But that's still a below-market multiple on what should be the company's trough earnings. Given that the last memory price boom has left Micron flush with $3 billion in net cash and $10 billion in liquidity, Micron has a rock-solid balance sheet to help get it through to the next up-cycle.
Like computer memory, iron ore is thought of as a commodity, and that commodity has been surging in price. After the terrible Jan. 25 Brumadinho dam disaster, iron ore giant Vale (NYSE:VALE) had to shut down production at multiple sites, taking tens of millions of tons of iron ore off the market. That caused iron ore prices to spike from $69 per tonne in December to $94 per tonne at the end of April.
The rise has benefited other iron ore producers around the world, including U.S.-based Cleveland-Cliffs (NYSE:CLF). However, the market clearly doesn't believe the good times will last, currently assigning Cleveland-Cliffs' stock a paltry 2.75 P/E ratio and a forward P/E ratio of just 7.6.
But there is more to Cleveland-Cliffs than just iron ore prices. The company produces a more environmentally friendly manufactured product called an iron pellet that greatly reduces emissions from blast-furnace steel factories. Given the worldwide trend toward greater environmental compliance, such pellets should continue to go for premium prices. Cleveland Cliffs has begun to incorporate this pellet premium into its recent contracts.
Additionally, the company will soon finish its new hot-briquetted iron (HBI) plant in Toledo, Ohio, by early 2020. HBI is an even higher-quality feedstock that can be used in electric arc furnace (EAF) steel factories, which are rapidly gaining market share from blast furnaces. Once that project is completed, Cleveland-Cliffs' margins should expand even further, and its capital spending will go down.
Management certainly thinks the stock is undervalued. After a couple years of paying down debt, Cleveland Cliffs reinstated its dividend last winter and has already raised it by 20%. In addition, the company initiated a share repurchase program at that time and has purchased about $171 million in stock through its April earnings report -- about 6% of shares in just half a year.
Management's generous capital return shows its confidence in the future, in spite of Mr. Market's concerns over commodity prices.
Finally, Elevate Credit (NYSE:ELVT) is a relatively new fintech company that went public in April of 2017. Elevate has a business that scares many investors off -- it makes unsecured loans to the subprime segment of the market at sky-high interest rates. Last quarter, Elevate's average APR was 126%. In addition, the company funds many of its loans with fairly high-yielding debt above 10%.
However, investors should understand that Elevate Credit is a big improvement over brick-and-mortar payday loan centers. In contrast to these shops, which often offer even higher rates, Elevate helps customers build their credit through timely payments and is committed to lowering rates for repeat customers over time. In fact, Elevate has pledged to cap its operating margins at 20% and continue lowering interest rates for customers once the cap is reached.
In addition, Elevate believes its subprime customer base is actually more resilient to an economic recession, as higher-quality customers are pushed into the subprime market as traditional banks cut off credit.
Elevate's stock has come down tremendously over the past year or so after the company intentionally put the brakes on revenue growth in order to focus on implementing a new credit model. Though the company has guided to only 3% to 6% revenue growth this year, due to better underwriting, lower customer acquisition costs, and lower interest rates on its debt, Elevate thinks it can increase adjusted EBITDA between 12% and 21% in 2019 and net income a whopping 100% to 140%. Elevate's new model is also off to a great start in 2019, with loss rates tracking well below those of 2017 and 2018.
Elevate currently trades at just 5.2 times next year's earnings estimates due to these fears. Though the stock is a bit riskier than your average financial, I think that is way overdone given the company's newfound efficiency and cost control. Those comfortable taking a bit of a risk may wish to put Elevate on their radar.