Share prices don't tell you much about the value of a company. That's just the price you get when dividing the total market cap of a company by the number of shares it has issued. Changing the number of slices won't make any difference to the company's overall value, even if it causes a huge jump or plunge in the stock price.
Small companies can cost more than $100 per share. Penny stocks can be wildly overpriced. High-priced tickers may turn out to be great deals in the long run. International giants can trade for less than $20 per stub. Anything is possible.
That being said, low share prices make stocks more accessible to us ordinary investors. Stocks that trade at very low prices today have often come down from loftier valuations in the past, and they could unlock tons of shareholder value by climbing back to those earlier highs.
Learn why online ad targeting specialist Criteo (CRTO -0.52%) and carrier-grade network equipment veteran LM Ericsson (ERIC 0.00%) are worthy investments, even if you can buy their shares for less than one Andrew Jackson bill right now.
A winner in the 5G era
Ericsson has been around the block a few times. The Swedish telecom-grade equipment maker traces its all-time highs back to the dot-com boom. The stock was split 240-fold between 1982 and 2000, followed by a 1-for-10 reverse split when the tech sector collapsed in 2002 and a final 2-for-1 adjustment in 2008. At today's prices, Ericsson is trading 85% below the split-adjusted peak of $131 per share in March of 2000. It's also a 950% return from the worst day of the dot-com crash in September 2002, when Ericsson shares could be bought for a split-adjusted $1.12 per stub. Today's stock price, just below $16 per share, is a direct result of these dramatic market moves two decades ago.
Investors wouldn't care about any of this unless Ericsson could stand on its own as a solid investment right now. As it turns out, the company is poised to beat the market thanks to a leading role in the 5G wireless revolution.
Ericsson is expected to grow both earnings and sales in 2020 despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. The company has scored over 100 commercial 5G installation deals, with 55 of these networks are already in operation. The big contract wins are still rolling in. American telecom leader Verizon is helping Ericsson develop and test its 5G solutions, and Big Red is one of the Swedish company's largest customers. Ericsson's rivals would sell their shirts for that kind of image-boosting support.
Long story short, Ericsson looks ready to leave the $20 bargain bin behind as the 5G opportunity plays out.
Rumors of Criteo's death have been greatly exaggerated
Criteo can't match Ericsson's decades of operating history, but that doesn't make its long-term growth prospects any less exciting.
This company helps advertisers craft highly targeted marketing campaigns based on a rich treasure trove of consumer data. Using tools such as artificial intelligence, deep data analysis, and measurable returns on investment for different types of campaign changes, Criteo serves up more than 1.3 billion online ads per year.
The stock has fallen behind the broader market in recent years because mobile platforms and web browser makers are making it more difficult to collect the marketing data that drives Criteo's business. Investors and analysts fear that if Alphabet removes third-party access to tracking cookies in the market-leading Chrome browser, the phones will stop ringing in Criteo's sales offices. That's why Criteo's shares have fallen 73% over the last three years, including a 24% year-to-date drop in 2020.
But the company is working up alternative tracking methods, striking new data collection partnerships, and pushing new tracking standards that can satisfy the company's needs while also giving consumer privacy much more respect than the old cookies ever did.
"Online identity may go dark at some point, but we have a powerful flashlight," CEO Megan Clarken said in July's second-quarter earnings call. That flashlight relies on many years of profile-building experience, direct partnerships with over 20,000 advertisers, and a massive user graph covering 2.5 billion online data users around the world. Nearly all -- 98% -- of that consumer base can already be tracked by other means than third-party browser cookies, Clarken said.
Criteo weathered the COVID-19 storm in the spring like a champ, collecting second-quarter revenues 15% ahead of analyst expectations. Analysts and investors are starting to take Criteo's forward-looking claims more seriously in the light of this massive revenue surprise, and the stock is trading 125% above the mid-March lows. One share costs roughly $13 today, making it easy to build a Criteo position through several buys of a few shares each. The stock is trading at just 5.2 times Criteo's annual free cash flows and 8.7 times forward earnings estimates. It would still look affordable if share prices just doubled or tripled overnight.