I've long believed that the best stocks sport the biggest insider ownership.
When insiders own a massive chunk of a company, they have ample reason to plan for the long haul and create value for their investors. That's obviously good for every shareholder, big and small.
So, with that in mind, I wanted to share two stocks I've been watching that have massive insider ownership and below-average P/E ratios -- the kind of mix that just might lead to big returns.
An impressive insurer
W.R. Berkley (NYSE:WRB) generates its revenue by insuring everything from oil rigs to football teams, and it's historically been a very conservative underwriter. Its combined ratio, which measures insurance losses and operating costs as a percentage of premiums, has averaged at 96% over the last 5 years. Most P&C insurers are lucky to get as low as 100%.
It's in no small part due to Bill Berkley, the company's CEO, who has been at the helm since its founding in 1967. He owned 19.9% of the company as of the latest proxy filing, just a hair less than his ownership at the time the company went public.
Berkley's stake in his company invariably guides his decision making. W.R. Berkley is known to write new policies aggressively when prices are favorable, and all but disappear when it believes insurance is underpriced.
But when the company idles, it doesn't let cash build up. It loves to repurchase shares if doing so offers a better return, which is why its diluted share count has plunged from 198 million shares to 133 million in the last 10 years.
At just under 10 times earnings and 1.3 times book value, W.R. Berkley looks like a compelling bargain in the insurance industry. It's rare that investors can buy into a well-run industry leader at such a low valuation.
A market-beating asset manager
You may not recognize the name Franklin Resources (NYSE:BEN), but you'd probably recognize at least one of its brands, Franklin Templeton Investments. Something of a specialist, Franklin Resources has made a name for itself in posting top-tier performance in hybrid and international funds.
Asset management can be a very lucrative business, and Franklin Resources' results are no exception to the industry norm. The company's net profit margins routinely top 27% in any given year, driven by a lucrative mix of fees charged on assets in its funds. And growing assets is as easy as riding a rising market -- AUM grew from $523 billion in 2009 to $880 billion at the end of 2014.
Rupert Johnson, a director and Vice Chairman, owned 16.98% of the company as of its latest proxy filing. His brother, Charles B. Johnson, had a slightly larger stake. Managing the business is a family affair, with the Johnson family owning more than one-third of the company over many generations.
The company sells for just 13.6 times earnings, well below comparable asset managers, which typically trade at a premium earnings multiple relative to the market. But when you back out its cash, Franklin Resources is even cheaper, at 10.4 times last year's earnings. That's certifiably cheap, particularly in a market where the average S&P 500 component fetches a valuation nearing 19 times earnings.