There are reasons a stock price hits, or comes near, a low for the year. For many investors, that kind of negativity is a sure sign it's time to run for the hills. But for others, particularly highly disciplined investors in search of value, either a big sell-off or steady decline to 52-week lows can be a great opportunity to do what every investor should: buy on the cheap.

The primary consideration is what's behind the sell-off? German-based software, cloud, and enterprise solutions provider SAP's (NYSE:SAP) stock price is bumping up against its year-low because it appears investors didn't read beyond some recent headlines. NCR (NYSE:NCR), maker of ATM's and other business-related solutions, issued a statement saying not to expect as much in the way of earnings ahead of its Q3 announcement. As for IBM (NYSE:IBM), investors patience seems to be wearing thin.

SAP negativity all wrong
After announcing a stellar Q3 on Oct. 20 compared to last year – revenues increased 5%, margins improved, net earnings jumped 16%, and cloud-related sales soared 45% while SAP's stock price dropped over 5%. The problem? SAP also revised its guidance for the year downward, which triggered warning bells.

If that were the whole story, there might be some method to SAP investor's madness. But a closer look at why SAP lowered expectations is warranted. According to management, SAP will see less in the way of software revenues than expected, due to its customer's shift from traditional up-front payments to an online, subscription-based fee structure. In other words, the revenues are there, but they're simply delayed due to more of SAP's customers moving to a pay-as-you-go, subscription arrangement.

SAP's shift to cloud-related technologies, as was evident in its recently released Q3 results, is going gangbusters. In fact, buried in SAP's full-year, 2014 guidance was yet another increase in expected cloud revenues.

The value of NCR
Much like SAP, NCR's stock took a hit when it announced preliminary Q3 results – the "official" report is scheduled for Oct. 23 – with a headline that included, "and lowers 2014 full-year guidance." Not the way to instill investor confidence, to be sure. But again, like SAP, value investors would do well to dig a bit deeper.

NCR's "lowered expectations," for Q3 are for revenues of an estimated $1.65 billion, a 9% increase compared to Q3 2013, though lower than previously thought. Same story with operating income, and earnings, both improvements over last year, but below what NCR CEO Bill Nuti had anticipated. And one more upside for value investors: NCR's forward price-to-earnings ratio is a meager 7.7.

Why would Nuti seemingly go out of his way to temper investor enthusiasm, particularly since preliminary results weren't nearly as bad as he made it appear? Nuti wouldn't be the first CEO to try and manage investor's expectations. Let's face it, short-term investors often view beating expectations, even lowered expectations, as a "buy" signal, whether warranted or not.

Time for IBM to get moving
As noted in a recent article, the argument that IBM's recent sell-off was justified is tough to refute. After a quarter in which revenues dropped 4%, net income was down a whopping 17%, and expenses -- a focus of CEO Ginni Rometty's all year -- actually increased, IBM is facing some challenges. With results like that, it's easy to see why investors are losing patience with IBM; and therein lies the opportunity.

It's no secret that Rometty is reinventing IBM. Known as a world leader in hardware solutions, IBM is in the midst of making what has clearly been a painful shift to cloud, business intelligence, or BI, big data, and mobile technologies. Or, as IBM describes it in its earnings release, "strategic imperatives," and in those key areas, IBM is making some headway.

Cloud revenues are up over 50%, and tracking at an annual run rate over $3 billion, putting IBM near the top of the list for cloud service providers. Business analytics, which includes IBM's big data solutions, also grew in Q3 compared to last year, up 8%. Security and mobile-related revenues, also strategic focuses of Rometty's, improved as well.

Finding good stocks
Investing in any stock requires due diligence, as Fools well know, but spending your hard-earned money on recently beaten down companies really warrants some research. But when the circumstances are right, as they are for the above-mentioned stocks, the long-term appreciation potential is that much higher. And in the case of SAP and IBM, investors will also enjoy a dividend yield of over 2% while their respective stocks' prices make their way back from 52-week lows.

 

Tim Brugger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of International Business Machines. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.