With stocks starting the final quarter of 2019 on a bit of a volatile note, some investors are shifting away from riskier growth plays in favor of more conservatively valued companies. There's no telling how the broader market's performance will shape up in the near term, but it's always worth keeping an eye out for opportunities that present significant upside and more moderate risk profiles.
For this look at potential bargain-buy stocks, I've chosen to profile AMC Entertainment (AMC -1.09%) and AT&T (T 2.23%), two companies that have had very different runs in 2019. AMC has struggled as ticket sales and streaming growth have caused shareholders to sour on the stock, while AT&T has posted impressive gains as investors have warmed to it as a defensive investment.
It's possible that market volatility will pull each company into cheaper territory, but both stocks already trade at relatively low multiples, offer big dividends, and deserve attention from bargain-focused investors.
1. AMC Entertainment
AMC Entertainment stock has recovered roughly 13% since hitting a lifetime low in July, but shares still look cheaply valued for investors willing to take a contrarian position at a time when buzz is centered on streaming platforms. Shares have lost nearly two-thirds of their value over the last few years, and while theater-industry performance has left the market cold, the stock appears oversold.
It's not unreasonable to look at the rise of streaming and slow growth for the domestic box office over the last decade and conclude that the movie-theater business is heading for decline. Streaming services mean more competition for moviegoer dollars, and many think that the theater model is being disrupted. On a long enough timeline, it's certainly possible, but AMC might be more resilient than many are expecting.
Investors have punished the stock as management has ramped up spending, and this year's ticket sales have trended below 2018's box office levels despite heavy-hitting pictures like Avengers Endgame. However, box-office performance hasn't been that bad and will likely end the year on a stronger note.
Big entertainment companies are increasing their spending on streaming content, but that's happening in tandem with traditional theatrical-film development -- and it doesn't look like the franchise-based big-screen model will disappear anytime soon. The market has reacted to attendance being down during the first six months of the year, but fourth-quarter 2019 films, including Joker, Frozen 2, Jumanji: The Next Level, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, should lift the annual comparison. The film market will have good and bad years depending on release timing, but studio dedication to the franchise-film model and untapped expansion potential in international markets suggests AMC's outlook isn't as dire as many might assume.
AMC is now valued at less than a fifth of its projected sales for the year, and the stock pays a 7.5% dividend. While its high payout ratio and 21-quarter streak of paying dividends at the current level suggest an increase won't be coming anytime soon, management has said that it foresees no changes to its dividend plan. The payout appears sustainable as the company eases off of spending tied to theater renovations and moves ahead with cost-saving initiatives, and investors are getting a great yield at current prices.
The theater chain's renovation spending appears to be having a positive effect, with the company posting attendance performance that's outstripping the average of its industry competitors. In addition to efforts to renovate its seating and provide a higher-end experience at its theaters, the company is also making some innovative moves -- including showing professional sports broadcasts.
The company is signaling that it's cutting down on capital expenditures like theater revamps, recently lowering its capital expenditures (capex) target for the current fiscal year from $450 million to $415 million and laying out a $300 million spending target for 2020, so there's a path to getting back to regular profits and turning the stock story around. It's fair to say that the industry is giving off some mixed signals, and AMC's floor-level price-to-sales ratio reflects the reality of slow growth in the domestic theater market, but shares look cheaply valued.
AT&T stock has been on a tear in 2019, gaining roughly 30% year to date. Even after this uncharacteristically strong run, the telecom giant trades at a forward earnings multiple of just 10 and sports a hefty 5.5% dividend yield.
Shares benefited from rebound momentum following the sell-offs that hit the broader market late last year, but AT&T has trounced the S&P 500 index's nearly 18% rally as it continued to post strong cash flows despite business headwinds and moved forward with growth initiatives in 5G networking.
The stock received another positive catalyst in September, after activist investor Paul Singer's Elliott Management Corp revealed a $3.2 billion stake in AT&T. Elliott will be lobbying for the telecom company to unload DIRECTV -- and potentially Time Warner, as well, and the investing firm thinks that its strategies could help AT&T stock head north of $60 per share by the end of 2021.
AT&T, for its part, has indicated that it plans to stick with the DIRECTV unit and has no intention of undoing the Warner acquisition. Whether or not the company chooses to divest from some businesses, there's a lot to like about its collection of assets, and the stock continues to look attractively valued.
The telecom giant can be expected to play a leading role in the 5G network market, and service that offers substantially higher download and upload speeds should help the company reclaim some lost pricing power. Next-gen networking technologies will also pave the way for an explosion of new connected devices, and AT&T could see substantial growth in demand in categories like wearables and autonomous vehicles. The next evolution of networking technology is still at its very early stages, and it stands to be a performance driver for AT&T over the next decade.
While it's fair to say that AT&T hasn't figured out the best way to package its streaming offerings, it's got a strong array of assets to work with and tie into its 5G strategy. The DIRECTV unit will likely continue to lose subscribers, and Elliott Management's activist pushes could continue to grab headlines and call the value of that segment of the business into question. However, patient investors could be rewarded as the company pushes forward with strategies to unlock value over the long term.
With opportunities to bundle its streaming service and broader entertainment content with high-performance mobile wireless service, AT&T actually looks pretty well-positioned for the evolving content and services market.