Value stocks are, by definition, relatively inexpensive relative to their earnings and long-term growth potential. Typically compared to exciting growth stocks, these companies enjoy more stable and slower growth trends, but can create massive returns over time. Even by value stock standards, though, sometimes stocks work their way toward a shockingly low price. This sort of move earns investor attention because it makes already sweet deals on some massive companies look even sweeter.

Gilead Sciences (GILD), ViacomCBS (PARA -1.87%) (PARA.A -0.37%), and MetLife (MET 0.65%) are three such value names whose prices have slipped too low to ignore. I believe their stocks have fallen because most investors fail to see the bigger picture for each company, rather than because of true worries over their future viability. Let's dig deeper into these three value stocks and ask whether investors should scoop them up during their lows.

Red sale tag attached to store shelf

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Gilead Sciences

Trailing price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio: 18.91

Forward-looking P/E ratio: 9.75

Given that Gilead's drug remdesivir was the first to be granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for COVID-19, investors might have expected the company's shares to have soared in the meantime. But they haven't. Gilead shares are instead down 16% since that early May approval, and lower by a similar amount from their March peak, shortly after the drug was first suggested as a ready-to-go solution. Investors are thinking that something better than remdesivir will come along soon enough, like a vaccine, leaving Gilead out of the next era of COVID-19 treatment and prevention. Worries over its hepatitis C business, which was shrinking well before COVID-19 began to spread late last year, are legitimate as well.

The bears may be overestimating just how much of a headwind Gilead Sciences faces from here, however. They're also ignoring the fact that this company is first and foremost an HIV-focused business.

Here's the reality: Gilead Sciences' aggressive pricing missteps, which appeared in 2014 via hepatitis treatments Sovaldi and Harvoni, were finally starting to move out of sight and into the rearview mirror this year. The company had introduced a generic version of Harvoni in 2018, in effect cannibalizing its own product. Last year's top line increased by only 2%, but after 2018's 16% setback in total revenue year over year, that small improvement was a sign that Gilead was focused on shrugging off all the hepatitis pricing turbulence that had plagued it for years.

The irony? Actually, about four-fifths of Gilead's business comes from the sale of HIV drugs, which have remained on a steady growth track. COVID-19 was never the only reason to buy (or sell) Gilead Sciences. 

The coming year's fiscal results are currently expected to mirror this year's numbers, but at less than 10 times 2021's estimated earnings, the low-cost chance of even modest growth is too good to pass up.

2. ViacomCBS

Trailing P/E ratio: 13.03

Forward-looking P/E ratio: 7.66

It would be easy to dismiss ViacomCBS as unworthy of holding. The cable TV industry as we know it is slowly dying, and the company doesn't readily appear positioned for what's coming -- streaming video as a replacement for traditional cable service. But ViacomCBS, as the owner of CBS, MTV, BET, Nickelodeon, Showtime, and movie studio Paramount, is also the name behind streaming service CBS All Access. Avid streamers might be the first to point out that CBS All Access is hardly on par with the likes of a popular service like Netflix or Disney-owned Hulu, the latter of which boasts 32.1 million subscribers to the non-live-TV version of its service. Newcomer Peacock, from rival television name Comcast, already has at least 10 million subscribers after launching for all consumers in mid-July. CBS All Access and Showtime combined sill only serve 16.2 million viewers, even though CBS All Access has been around since 2014.

There are a couple of overlooked details about ViacomCBS, however, that make it more potent than many investors might presume.

One of those details is that, while it may be a latecomer to the ad-supported video on demand (AVOD) party, it's still trying to work its way into the fold. In March, the company completed the acquisition of Pluto TV, which already had 22 million regular viewers. While not especially well monetized right now, Pluto only won about $80 million of the United States' $850 million in AVOD spending in the second quarter, according to MoffettNathanson. ViacomCBS has plenty of runway to learn and improve its own ad-supported business.

The other detail investors may be missing is the fact that while CBS relies heavily on a shrinking linear cable market, it is prioritizing distribution of its content -- even through direct competitors like Comcast. Aside from a heavy dose of Comcast's home-grown content, Peacock users are also enjoying several Paramount and CBS titles, like television show Ray Donovan and The Godfather movie trilogy.

ViacomCBS doesn't necessarily have to lead the streaming market to win from its expansion. It's clear that many investors don't know ViacomCBS like they think they do. 

3. MetLife

Trailing P/E ratio: 5.05

Forward-looking P/E ratio: 7.35

Insurer and benefits giant MetLife was among the hardest-hit value stocks in February and March, shortly after the economic effects of COVID-19 started to take hold of the U.S. Investors weren't sure exactly how much the pandemic would cost the company, but many feared the worst. And some still do, given how Metlife stock has trailed the market rebound that first took shape in late March. At its current price, shares remain nearly 30% below their February high.

However, the fact of the matter is that covering losses hasn't been as costly as many feared it would be.

Sure, Metlife's adjusted profits fell a little more than 40% year over year for the three-month stretch ending in June. COVID accounted for the bulk of the setback, and the company warned that the contagion's effects could seep into the current quarter even without saying exactly how, or by what magnitude.

Now, more than six months into the pandemic, it's arguable that the U.S. and the rest of the world have a better grip on the virus and understand how to curb its spread. The daily number of new cases reported in the U.S. has been shrinking since late July, and states are beginning to enter new phases of reopening. Employment is perking up too -- about 1.6 million jobs were regained between June and July -- reigniting the company's benefits business.

Simply put, Metlife is going to push through a tough 2020. Analysts expect earnings of $5.45 per share (EPS) to improve to $6.01 next year on the heels of a similar revenue rebound. Investors haven't yet priced in that recovery.