With all of the recent volatility in the market, what stocks are outrageously cheap?

I found one recently, and I got to thinking about the others out there when I read money manager Bill Miller's comment that "the market abounds with good value."

Of course, Mr. Miller also wrote last August that stocks were the cheapest they'd been since 1991 ... and after a brief rebound, they kept right on dropping. Mr. Miller's fund has suffered thanks to core holdings in some recently deceptively cheap stocks such as eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) and AES (NYSE:AES).

Given wary financial markets, a recent rash of writedowns, and a slowing economy, it should be clear that not all stocks that look cheap are cheap (with no disrespect intended to the talented Mr. Miller). Both Warren Buffett and John Hussman have recently affirmed that lesson.

There are, however, some individual stocks today that, for one reason or another, not only present "good value" but are outrageously cheap.

Back up the truck, people
What makes for an outrageously cheap stock? Here's my short list:

  1. A balance sheet with lots of cash and little debt.
  2. An EV/EBITDA ratio less than 6.
  3. A business with the financial strength and strategy to survive and thrive in a down economy.
  4. No potential for massive writedowns.

Of course, even amid today's unprecedented market environment, there are only a handful of large or mid-caps that meet those criteria, so if you really want to build an "outrageously cheap" portfolio, you may need to start thinking of yourself as a small-cap investor.

Welcome to the jungle
In truth, large caps such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) attract far too much investor attention to ever become inefficiently priced. That $160 billion consumer goods giant is tracked by 21 sell-side analysts.

You generally won't find as much interest among small caps, which is one of the reasons why -- given the criteria above -- Net1 UEPS (NASDAQ:UEPS), Tutor Perini (NYSE:TPC), and Volcom (NASDAQ:VLCM) look outrageously cheap.



Net Cash on Hand

Investors Scared Because ...



$117 million

Volatility in South Africa.

Tutor Perini


$249 million

Housing bust means reduced construction demand.



$85 million

Weak retail outlook.

Data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's.

Yes, that last subhead was a Guns N' Roses reference
The reason we love being small-cap investors at Motley Fool Hidden Gems is because it's the one area of the market where, thanks to inefficiencies and lack of Wall Street interest, stocks can become outrageously cheap. And there's good reason to think that things will get better for all three of these stocks. Of course, in a down market like this one, that lack of efficiency can make for some gut-wrenching downside volatility.

But we're using current market conditions to recommend the market's best small companies -- stocks that should crush the market averages over the next decade or more.

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This article was first published on March 14, 2008. It has been updated.

Tim Hanson does not own shares of any company mentioned. Volcom is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Procter & Gamble is an Income Investor choice. eBay is an Inside Value and Stock Advisor pick. Net1 UEPS is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Motley Fool owns shares of Volcom and Procter & Gamble. The Fool's disclosure policy is decidedly un-outrageous.