Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

This Stock Is Cheap -- or Is It?

By Tim Hanson - Updated Nov 11, 2016 at 4:52PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

What stock price does and does not tell you about a company.

Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) is one of the truly remarkable success stories of the past two decades. Back in June 1988, Medtronic was still a small company that had not yet scratched the surface of its potential. Its shares traded for just $1. After years of growth, the stock now trades for more than $30.

That 3,000% gain illustrates the profit potential of investing in promising small companies. It also goes to show that if you want Medtronic-like gains, you need to look for stocks trading for $1 or $2 -- or definitely below $5. Just take a look at this list of winners since 1990 and their stock price back then:

Company

Gain Since June 1990

Stock Price in June 1990

Walgreen (NYSE:WAG)

945%

$2.48

Lowe's (NYSE:LOW)

1,560%

$1.26

Adobe Systems (NASDAQ:ADBE)

1,080%

$1.94

BMC Software (NYSE:BMC)

711%

$3.13

Say it with us: No, no, no!
Here's where we pull back the curtain: All of those June 1990 prices are adjusted for stock splits and -- in some cases -- dividends. Although Medtronic was a small company two decades ago, it still traded for $74 per share. Walgreen traded for $47, Lowe's for $48, Adobe for $33, and BMC Software for $25

So we hope we've done a little bit of myth-busting here. Namely:

  1. Lower-priced stocks do not go up any more quickly than higher-priced stocks do.
  2. Lower-priced stocks are not necessarily cheaper than higher-priced stocks.
  3. Lower-priced stocks are not necessarily smaller than higher-priced stocks.

By itself, a stock's price cannot tell you anything about the value of the underlying company or its investment potential.

That's why Middleby, a stock that's returned more than 200% for subscribers to our Motley Fool Hidden Gems small-cap service, can remain a promising $500 million small cap even though it trades for $30 per share.

You cannot beat this price
Myths about the meaning of stock prices abound, and catering to those myths may be one of the reasons Middleby's board split the company's shares recently. We'd previously encouraged Middleby's leaders to stop worrying about the stock price, save the time and money required to file the necessary stock-splitting paperwork, and instead continue to focus on allocating capital efficiently and growing the business for the long term.

That's what shareholders should care about. If the business is succeeding, the stock will follow -- regardless of whether it's starting from $5, $50, or $500.

The Foolish bottom line
We readily admit that small companies, as measured by market caps of $2 billion or less, are for many reasons likely to offer better returns than large companies going forward. So, if you're looking for stocks with the most potential for outsized returns, start with small caps -- you'll find that a more productive starting point than "low-priced stocks."

Also look for key traits of the market's biggest successes:

  1. Cheap valuations relative to a company's earnings or cash flows.
  2. Tenured managers who own a significant number of shares.
  3. Growing operations in a profitable niche.

And if you can find a company that meets these criteria, it's worthy of your research no matter the stock price. After all, this simple framework is often how we start our research at Motley Fool Hidden Gems. It helped us find Middleby and 50 more recommendations that are beating the market by 7 percentage points on average.

If you'd like to take a look at the stocks we're recommending today, click here to try Hidden Gems free for 30 days. There is no obligation to subscribe, and you might just find a bargain trading for $50 per share.

This article was originally published Feb. 13, 2007. It has been updated.

Tim Hanson does not own shares of any company mentioned; Brian Richards doesn't own any, either. Middleby is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy would like to remind you that when in Rome, price is what you pay.

None

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc. Stock Quote
Walgreens Boots Alliance, Inc.
WBA
$39.90 (1.97%) $0.77
Medtronic plc Stock Quote
Medtronic plc
MDT
$94.17 (1.15%) $1.07
Lowe's Companies, Inc. Stock Quote
Lowe's Companies, Inc.
LOW
$201.43 (3.19%) $6.23
Adobe Inc. Stock Quote
Adobe Inc.
ADBE
$438.40 (2.77%) $11.83
BMC Software, Inc. Stock Quote
BMC Software, Inc.
BMC.DL

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
373%
 
S&P 500 Returns
122%

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/10/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.