Fears of the trade war escalating have thrown stocks for a loop recently. Still, as any value-oriented investor knows, the best time to buy is when the rest of the market is actively selling, offering up bargain prices for great businesses. Indeed, it's looking for and investing in those sorts of opportunities that made Warren Buffett a billionaire.
Of course, successful value investing takes more than just looking for low prices. After all, sometimes stocks get knocked down for good reason, and "value traps" ensnare many bargain hunters. To help separate the real values from the traps, we asked three Motley Fool contributors to pick companies that seem to be going for a value price. They picked Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK.A)(NYSE:BRK.B), Changyou.com (NASDAQ:CYOU), and Ferro (NYSE:FOE). Read on to figure out why and determine for yourself whether any of them may be too good a bargain to pass up.
Buffett's not buying -- but now might be a good time to buy Buffett
Rich Smith (Berkshire Hathaway): This August has been a rough month to own stocks. Between Trump's ongoing trade war with China and renewed fears that an inverted yield curve could be presaging recession, the stock market isn't looking too healthy lately.
In fact, as our fellow Fool Sean Williams recently pointed out, things are looking so scary that even noted value Warren Buffett has stopped buying stocks -- hasn't made a "needle-moving" purchase in three-and-a-half years, in fact!
And yet, this very fact could be signaling opportunity.
At an average P/E ratio of 21.75, S&P 500 stocks aren't particularly cheap. And yet, Buffett's own stock -- Berkshire Hathaway -- sells for just 17 times earnings today -- about 22% cheaper than the average S&P stock, despite Berkshire Hathaway being itself a significantly better-than-average stock.
And here's another thing: Buffett is on record saying he thinks Berkshire Hathaway stock is worth at least 1.2 times book value. Currently, shares sell for 1.29 times book value, which seems pretty close to the mark. What's more, analysts who follow the stock expect 2019 to be kind of a blowout year for Berkshire, with S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates predicting profits will rebound from just $2.4 billion last year to $30.7 billion this year. (And, no, that's not a typo).
Seems to me, even if you're frightened to buy any other stocks today, Berkshire Hathaway looks like a great value stock to buy.
This Chinese video game company trades at a huge discount
Keith Noonan (Changyou.com): If you're looking for stocks that trade at deep value prices, it often helps to stray off the beaten path and into more obscure territory. Video game developer Changyou.com certainly fits the "obscure" bill, and there are a range of signs that point to the stock trading at a big discount relative to its fundamentals and outlook.
The company has recorded $68 million in non-GAAP (adjusted) income across the first two quarters of the year, and its stock is trading at less than 3.5 times this year's expected earnings and roughly three-quarters of expected sales for the year. Changyou has a market capitalization of just $320 million. Take into account the fact that the company had a net cash position of $217 million at the end of June and also has some real estate assets, and there's a very good chance that shareholders will eventually enjoy substantial returns from the stock. So, why is Changyou so dramatically beaten down?
The Chinese interactive entertainment company was spun off from Sohu.com in 2009 and never really got much attention from investors after making its debut on the Nasdaq -- probably because most Americans haven't heard of its games. Massive special dividends paid in recent years have had the effect of moving cash back to Sohu, but they also make Changyou's stock-price chart look a bit scary at first glance and may promote the idea that the company isn't investing enough in its own growth engines. Concerns about the ongoing trade war and China's currency devaluation certainly haven't helped, either.
The good news is that Tian Long Ba Bu (TLBB), the company's biggest franchise, appears to be stabilizing thanks to recent content updates, more games are on the way, and the big special dividends are likely being paid in order to make it easier to take the company private or be bought outright by Sohu -- things that would likely happen at a premium. Even if not, Changyou is already solidly profitable and looks like a steal at current prices.
A company that has seen its share of economic cycles
Chuck Saletta (Ferro): You may have never heard of Ferro, but chances are that you've encountered many of its products. It makes colors and coatings that go into other companies' products in areas that range from automotive and electronics to cosmetics and leather. The fact that its products are used throughout many industries makes Ferro sensitive to the health of the overall economy. With the trade war stoking fears of a recession, Ferro's shares recently dropped to new 52-week lows.
That fear and drop in its shares have unlocked a potential opportunity for patient investors. After its recent decline, Ferro's shares are trading at less than seven times the company's estimated fiscal year 2020 earnings. That's a sure sign that the market fears that those earnings won't materialize. If a domestic recession happens -- or even if the rest of the globe slips into negative growth -- that's a real possibility.
Still, even if the economy does take a turn for the worse, what really matters is whether the company can see its way through to the other side of a recession to the sunnier days that follow. With a history that traces back a century -- to even before the Great Depression -- Ferro has certainly seen its share of economic cycles, and managed to survive. That history, along with a balance sheet with only around two years of gross profit worth of debt on it, gives reason to believe it will likely survive the next recession.
As a result, patient investors who are willing to look past the short-term fear in the market just might be getting a solid company at a reasonable value today. It's rare for solid companies to go on sale, but at these prices, Ferro may very well fit that bill.