"I don't look to jump over seven-foot bars: I look around for one-foot bars that I can step over."  -- Warren Buffett

If you're in the market for those one-foot bars Buffett loves, here's one of the best places to look: companies beaten to such a pulp that just their net amount of cash on hand represents a significant portion of the share price. In some cases, you're being handed the actual business operations for free -- or at least, close to it. Doesn't get much better than that, does it?

Using our Motley Fool CAPS screening tool, I searched for companies fitting these bargain-basement criteria. Specifically, I looked for:

  • Estimates of profitability in 2009.
  • No long-term debt.
  • A high level of total cash in relation to current share price.

Among others, I came across these five:


Market Cap

Recent Price

Total Cash per Share

Next Fiscal Year EPS Estimates

CAPS Rating   
(out of 5)

China Finance Online (NASDAQ:JRJC)

$236 million





Ctrip.com International (NASDAQ:CTRP)

$663 million





Focus Media (NASDAQ:FMCN)

$987 million





Harvest Natural Resources (NYSE:HNR)

$145 million





Sigma Designs (NASDAQ:SIGM)

$328 million





Data from Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance, and Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, as of Feb. 12.

You can run the same screen yourself, if you like. None of these are formal buy recommendations -- just a good starting point for more research.

Cheap by any definition
I've owned shares of Harvest Natural Resources for a while now. Confession: I'm down. Big time. It hurts. But you know what? At these prices, I don't think I've ever felt more confident about a stock having such limited downside with huge upside potential than I do today.

The main kicker here is Harvest's balance sheet position: Not a penny of debt, and $3.59 per share in cash. With shares now trading around $4.40 a pop, you're paying, eh, call it practically nothing for the ongoing business. Downside risk is extremely limited here.  

Upside potential, however, is real. Way back in September, CAPS member ValueArbitrage laid out a still-relevant outline of the upside potential of Harvest's Venezuela-based oil and gas assets:

At today's price this business trades at an enormous discount to its current [net asset value] despite the waterfall of revenue soon to fall strait to the bottom line, and should provide outstanding risk-adjusted returns with minimal downside for patient long term investors. ...

A production ramp (of roughly 25%) - over the next 12 months that should produce marginal revenue yielding high cashflow as most of the revenue increase will fall strait to the bottom line. Over the next year [Harvest Natural Resources'] profit generating capabilities should get considerably stronger.

The fundamental fear gripping this stock over the past few years was that its Venezuela assets could be seized by Hugo Chavez in a nationalization quest. The fears were legitimate, but likely overblown. Harvest negotiated successfully to remain in Venezuela, unlike ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP), which learned the hard way that fighting with an irrational president is a fruitless endeavor. Today, this risk has been substantially reduced, after oil's plunge has turned Senor Chavez back into Mr. Nice Guy, who has been offering foreign energy companies renewed contracts.   

Bottom line: Harvest is priced as if oil will stay low forever (it won't) and Chavez has already booted it out of Venezuela (he hasn't, and likely won't). Moreover, I'm thoroughly convinced the big investing story of the next few years will be a renewed commodity surge as the trillions of dollars printed to fund financial bailouts undermine the dollar. Some see potential to exploit this opportunity with gold; I see it in a commodity currently beaten down to ridiculously low levels: oil.

Take it from here 
At just over $4 a share -- most of it in cash -- Harvest looks like a no-brainer to me.

Disagree? See it in another light? Just want to see what the rest of the pack is saying? More than 125,000 investors use CAPS to share ideas and swap opinions. Click here to check it out. It's 100% free to participate.

For further Foolishness: 

Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares in Harvest Natural Resources. Ctrip.com International is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Sigma Designs, China Finance Online, and Focus Media are Rule Breakers recommendations. Focus Media is also a Global Gains pick. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.