Just as we examine companies each week that may be rising past their fair value, we can also find companies trading at what may be bargain prices. While many investors would rather have nothing to do with companies wallowing at 52-week lows, I think it makes a lot of sense to determine whether the market has over-reacted to a company's bad news, just as we often do when the market reacts to good news.
Here's a look at three fallen angels trading near their 52-week lows that could be worth buying.
Not quite a lemon
If you look up 2013's biggest corporate goofs, there's a good chance that former lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) CEO Christine Day, as well as former chairman and co-founder Chip Wilson, are front and center.
Day found the spotlight after she was blamed for a scandal that involved the company's flagship black Luon yoga pants, which turned out to be partially see-through, leading to a large product recall. Wilson responded that his company's designs weren't meant to cater to plus-sized customers. This gaffe was a primary reason that guidance at lululemon suffered in an already weak third quarter for retailers.
But the good news is that there's hope for a lululemon rebound.
Previously I've been an outspoken pessimist on the company, but its valuation relative to growth and branding potential now makes sense for a number of reasons.
First, most consumers have a short-term memory when it comes to CEO gaffes. Every two or three years, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF), Mike Jeffries, sticks his foot in his mouth with regard to his company's exclusionary apparel tactics for plus-sized women or its questionably skimpy merchandise, yet the negative response from consumers is often short-lived. I suspect lululemon will face much the same fate.
Second, lululemon has brand-name appeal and quality attached to it, regardless of its Luon black yoga pants gaffe. Consumers could just as easily buy athletic clothes for half the price in large retail outlets -- but they don't. It speaks volumes to the quality and draw of the lululemon brand.
Finally, lululemon's price relative to its growth finally makes sense. With America's obsession with exercise growing on a yearly basis, lululemon's long-term growth rate, which could easily remain 15% to 20% throughout the remainder of the decade, seems reasonable next to its forward P/E of 24.5.
Precautionary tales of woe
For many suppliers of components to the U.S. government and governments around the world, 2013 represented a rough year. Austerity measures in Europe and the U.S. and weakening growth in China all gave investors reasons to believe that any company associated with the defense sector was poised to struggle in 2013 and beyond.
That mode of thinking was busted, however, by industrial stalwarts like Boeing (NYSE:BA), which bucked the purported weakening orders expectation and delivered solid results. Despite a drop in defense sector margins, Boeing delivered a 3% increase in defense revenue during its third-quarter report in spite of a difficult orders environment.
Boeing's better-than-expected performance has me thinking that Aeroflex (UNKNOWN:ARX.DL), a designer of microelectronic components and measurement equipment used by the aerospace, defense, and medical industries, but highly dependent on government contracts, could be ripe for the picking.
In Aeroflex's most recent quarterly results, in which it missed EPS by a penny and was clobbered by investors for that miss, CEO Len Borow noted that he was "disappointed in our overall results as the weakness and uncertainty in our government and markets continues." However, on an earnings-adjusted basis Aeroflex looks just fine. Aeroflex, with the exception of one year during the recession, has been generating free cash flow consistently in excess of $50 million per year, and is now currently valued at roughly 0.8 times its price-to-sales -- historically cheap by all accounts for Aeroflex.
Looking ahead, if Aeroflex can meet its already lowered and conservative guidance it'll be trading at less than 10 times forward earnings and roughly 10 times cash flow, two figures that this value investor finds intriguing with regard to this company. For defense-savvy investors who aren't afraid of a company with $524 million in net debt, I'd suggest giving Aeroflex a closer inspection.
REIT-en in the cards
While most companies catapulted higher in 2013, utilities and real estate investment trusts struggled, as their growth rates are often in the mid-single-digits at best. One REIT in particular that struggled mightily now has my full attention, as well as that of Foolish banking analysts David Hanson and Matt Koppenheffer: Realty Income (NYSE:O).
Put simply, traders rotated out of these sectors and into riskier but higher growth tech and biotech names. The end results was Realty Income suffering a steady downtrend in the second-half of the year despite impressive results.
The good news is that with the Federal Reserve beginning its taper, interest rates may be expected to tick higher, which may put a halt to this near-vertical rally. That would almost certainly drive investors back into defensive names like Realty Income, a company that leases space to predominantly large retailers.
There are two particularly impressive aspects about Realty Income that get me excited.
First, the company gears its rental agreements to investment-grade retailers for the long-term. As of 2012, when I closely examined the company it had 55% of its contracts extended to 2023 or beyond, and practically all of its clients were considered investment-grade. That means little disruption in cash flow for a very long time.
Second, Realty Income has been dubbed the "Monthly Dividend Company" because of its steady dividends, which are paid out each month, and the fact that it's increased its dividend 74 times now since it went public in 1994! Sure, some of these increases may have been nominal, but considering that Realty Income's profits are limited by rental price growth and that the company is already yielding 5.8%, it's a pretty impressive track record.
I'm personally considering Realty Income for my own portfolio if it dips any further, and I would certainly suggest income-seeking and risk-averse investors give Realty Income a closer look.
Fool contributor Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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