Despite an absolutely tumultuous year that saw the widely followed S&P 500 lose over a third of its value in under five weeks' time, the S&P 500 ended last week at an all-time closing high. Even with daily coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases surging to new heights in the U.S., the apparent light at the end of the tunnel is fueling investor optimism.
What might be a bit harder to believe is that there's still plenty of value for investors, even with the broad-based S&P 500 nearing 3,600. If value is on your mind, here are four of the cheapest stocks to consider buying right now.
You want cheap? How about tobacco giant Altria Group (MO 0.23%) at roughly 9 times next year's earnings per share (EPS)?
There's little denying that the tobacco industry is facing more challenges than ever. Though this isn't the growth industry it once was, tobacco giants like Altria still have tricks up their sleeves to move the needle for their shareholders.
For starters, the nicotine found in tobacco is an addictive chemical, which means that smokers aren't likely to change their consumption habits due to increases in the price of tobacco products. The addictive nature of nicotine ensures that tobacco companies like Altria wield considerable pricing power.
Altria is also exploring ways to broaden its appeal with smokeless products. For instance, it's introducing the IQOS heated tobacco system into a variety of U.S. markets. It also invested $1.8 billion in Canadian cannabis licensed producer Cronos Group in March 2019. Although the Canadian marijuana industry has been struggling under the weight of regulatory issues and company-specific miscues, the expectation is that Altria will eventually aid Cronos with developing and marketing cannabis vape products.
Don't forget about Altria's capital return program. In addition to on-and-off share repurchase programs, this tobacco giant is currently doling out what I believe to be a sustainable 8.5% dividend yield. Reinvest this payout, and you could double your money in about 8 1/2 years.
A cheap tech stock? Seriously, it exists! Assuming Wall Street's forecast proves accurate, Western Digital (WDC -3.05%) can currently be scooped up for less than 7 times next fiscal year's EPS.
Why is Western Digital so inexpensive? It has a lot to do with the uncertainties of retail demand during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the fluctuations in supply and pricing that crop up from time to time in the storage solutions space. Western Digital also chose to shelve its dividend to focus on improving its balance sheet and paying down debt. That move disappointed some income-seeking investors since Western Digital once paid a high yield.
Yet there's plenty to be excited about, even with Western Digital's near-term hiccups. The biggest longer-term driver will be businesses shifting into the cloud. The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed businesses to move online and manage their data in the cloud. But this can't be done without data centers, where storage demand is going through the roof.
I also expect we'll see NAND flash memory become a staple in data centers. NAND has a much longer life span than hard disk drives and is viewed as far more reliable. This NAND flash focus in the data center space could have Western Digital raking in the big bucks by mid-decade.
In the near-term, don't discount the role Western Digital is playing in providing storage solutions for gaming consoles. Though new console debuts are usually few and far between, Western Digital is right in the sweet spot, with the PS5, Xbox Series X, and Xbox Series S slated for release this month.
Another exceptionally cheap stock opportunistic investors can buy right now is specialty drugmaker Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN). Alexion chimes in with a forward P/E ratio of about 10, along with a PEG ratio of under 0.9. Generally, a PEG ratio below 1 is considered to be undervalued.
If you're wondering why Alexion isn't getting any respect, the best guess I can offer is that Wall Street is concerned about its long-term reliance on blockbuster drug Soliris. Investors may also be disappointed with Alexion's many acquisitions, which haven't always panned out.
But consider this: Alexion is specifically targeting ultra-rare indications. While developing therapies to treat very small pools of patients is risky, the rewards are enormous if successful. In particular, Alexion is facing virtually no competition in the indications it's targeted with Soliris. It's therefore facing almost no pushback for the monstrously high list price of its blockbuster drug.
What's more, Alexion has been burning the midnight oil and innovating to preserve its future. The development and approval of next-generation therapy Ultomiris will preserve the company's cash flow for probably another decade, if not longer. Ultomiris is designed to eventually replace Soliris, and it only needs to be administered every eight weeks as opposed to two weeks with Soliris. The approval of Ultomiris has likely put worries about Soliris' exclusivity to bed for good.
Walgreens Boots Alliance
Staying within the healthcare space, pharmacy chain Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA 1.47%) also offers a boatload of value to patient investors. Walgreens can be purchased right now for about 8 times Wall Street's forward-year EPS estimate.
Healthcare stocks are often highly recession-resistant, but not so much chain stocks like Walgreens. The COVID-19 pandemic has crushed foot traffic into pharmacy chains. Clinic sales are down, too, as consumers choose to stay home.
Walgreens Boots Alliance's coming-of-age plan is what excites me about this company -- so much so that I bought this stock during the third quarter. Walgreens should be able to slash more than $2 billion from its annual expenditures, all while significantly strengthening its spending on digitization initiatives. This will translate into a higher percentage of sales derived online and will expand what consumers can pick up through Walgreens' drive-thru window.
Furthermore, Walgreens has partnered with VillageMD to install up to 700 full-service doctor's offices within its stores or property. The idea here is to create a single location for patients where they can seek full-service medical care and get their prescription filled by Walgreens' pharmacy. The hope is this more comprehensive service will attract patients with chronic conditions.
As one final note, Walgreens is working on a 44-year streak of increasing its base annual dividend and is currently yielding a healthy 4.4%. Fire away, value investors.