Investors can often find value in companies going through rough spots. For an investor seeking bargains, sometimes the best places to look are at scandal-plagued companies that, at first glance, appear to be falling apart. For bargain-hunting investing to work, however, there must be some redeeming quality in the firm -- some compelling reason to sincerely believe that the company will once again thrive.
Possible diamonds in the rough
For example, I recently picked up Puerto Rican mortgage financier and Motley Fool Inside Value pick Doral
Companies going through rough waters don't faze me -- I'm willing to buy them if there appears to be value in their prices. For Doral, MGP Ingredients, and General Motors, when I bought them, the combination of low price-to-book ratios, juicy dividends, and the cash on hand to support their payouts made them great candidates for me to buy and wait out their rough patches.
This ugly ducking isn't a swan
But I would almost rather be shocked by one of its stun guns than put my money in Taser
Trading at some 45 times its earnings and more than six times its book value even after its tumble, Taser is still priced as though it were on a tremendous growth trajectory -- a trajectory that is simply not evident in the actual results the company has been reporting. In its most recent 10-Q quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Taser disclosed that its year-over-year sales dropped by more than 22%, while the total cost of making those products barely budged. As a result, margins were squeezed to the point where more than 95% of the company's previous year's profit vanished.
Abuse of its shareholders
As if to add insult to injury, while it has been busy actively shrinking its operations, Taser has also been actively watering down its stock. The number of diluted shares outstanding jumped by more than 6% over the past year. To make matters worse, it's not as though the trend is slowing, in light of the company's troubles. Taser is continuing its brazen disregard of its current shareholders; it recently authorized another 6,800,000 shares (more than 10% additional dilution) for "employee compensation" purposes. I understand the need to compensate people for their work, but stock options should not be handed out willy-nilly, especially not as a "reward" for otherwise actively destroying shareholders' wealth.
What may the future bring?
It's true that Taser has very little viable current competition in the usually nonlethal weapons business. And that market dominance may very well buy the company some time to get itself straightened out. At the same time, there's risk in being the only fish in the pond. Just ask former telecommunications titan AT&T
In Taser's case, I actually do expect the company to eventually straighten out its business and survive. The mere likelihood of survival, however, does not make Taser a compelling investment at this time. There just is not yet sufficient value in its shares to make me want to buy.