While many companies are rising past their fair values, others are trading at potential bargain prices. Although many investors would rather have nothing to do with stocks wallowing at 52-week lows, it makes sense to see whether the market has overreacted to a company's bad news.
Here's a look at three fallen angels trading near their 52-week lows that could be worth buying.
Un-Vale-ing a great opportunity
If you've owned commodity-based stocks over the past year, you've probably felt the urge to bury your head under the pillows. Overall, concerns about growth in Europe coupled with a stronger U.S. dollar and weaker growth in China have wreaked havoc on coal, gold, silver, and iron ore. That's bad news for Brazil's mining giant Vale (NYSE:VALE), which has seen its margins strangled by weak iron ore and gold prices.
Vale's weakness was on public display in its recently reported 2014 results, which showed that net operating revenue fell 20% to $37.5 billion, adjusted EBIT margins dropped 15% to 22.6%, and EPS was cut by almost two-thirds to $0.86 from $2.38 in 2013. The primary culprit was the average realized price per metric ton of iron ore of around $76 in 2014, compared to approximately $112 in 2013. Wall Street and investors understand that it's nearly impossible for Vale to turn meaningful profits with iron ore prices treading near new lows, especially with it being the world's largest supplier of iron ore.
But Vale's enormous size and its access to emerging markets could wind up giving it significant long-term growth potential that could surprise investors. While I'm not in any way going to argue that 2014 wasn't a challenging year for Vale, there were also hints of strength.
For instance, Vale has been a mastermind at controlling costs in order to ensure it remains healthfully profitable even with iron ore prices near new lows. Excluding depreciation, Vale managed to cut its expenses by $1.22 billion in 2014 to $3.55 billion thanks to lower mining stoppage costs and reduced SG&A and research and development expenditures. Many miners like Vale have plenty of "levers" they can pull to reduce expenses in order to remain profitable and meet their debt interest payments. Vale could look to shed non-core assets in the future in order to raise cash if necessary, but I don't see this as a mandatory move yet.
Secondly, keep in mind that supply and demand will ultimately determine the price of commodities over the long term, even if emotions are the driving force behind the recent moves in gold and iron ore. As the price for iron ore drops, it should boost demand for the product, eventually creating a demand-side bottom in prices and pushing Vale strongly into the black. Let's not forget that even with China's growth having slowed to a three-decade low, its demand for commodities should remain strong (7% GDP growth is nothing to sneeze at), right alongside the rest of Southeast Asia.
Finally, there's a compelling case for its valuation here. Vale is currently valued at 66% of its book value and less than eight times its 2016 profit estimates. Even if Vale significantly scales back its dividend, which would probably be a smart idea, it could comfortably pay out 3%. This is an international value stock worth keeping your eyes on.
An empowering value stock
Next up on this week's deep-discount list (and new 52-week low list) is energy and energy services company OGE Energy (NYSE:OGE), which primarily operates in Oklahoma and western Arkansas.
On the surface, there are two inherent reasons why OGE Energy shares have been racing lower in recent weeks. First -- and this has been a persistent problem for years -- electric utilities are slow-growth income vehicles, and they have a hard time keeping up with the gains witnessed in the S&P 500 during an expansionary economy. In short, investors have been selling OGE Energy for riskier, high-growth assets in order to take advantage of a rising stock market. OGE's electric utility business makes up the bulk of its revenue and profit.
Secondly, OGE Energy has partial ownership of Enable Midstream Partners' (NYSE:ENBL) natural gas midstream operations, which investors fear will be negatively affected by ongoing weakness in natural gas and oil prices.
Although these are reasons for skepticism, I don't believe they hold enough merit to push the stock any lower.
Investors should keep in mind that, as a regulated utility business, OGE Energy isn't exposed to the wild fluctuations of wholesale energy pricing, and thus delivers very predictable cash flow. Wall Street loves predictability. Not to mention that OGE Energy provides a basic-need good (electricity) and can request price increases from respective state electric commissions that at least cover inflation and the cost to build out and/or repair infrastructure.
But investors should also not be concerned with its midstream business, Enable Midstream Partners. While pipelines can face some exposure to natural gas pricing, a vast majority have long-term, fee-based contracts in place that also guarantee a certain amount is transmitted on a yearly basis. The end result is that Enable's midstream business also delivers very predictable cash flow.
To be clear, OGE Energy isn't the type of company that'll double your money in a year. However, with the company on track to grow its dividend by approximately 10% per year for the foreseeable future (its yield is currently 3.2%) and valued at a reasonable 15 times forward earnings estimates, I believe value investors would be wise to dig more deeply into OGE Energy.
Insuring your future
Last up this week, I'd suggest value-seeking investors look north toward insurance and wealth management products provider Manulife Financial (NYSE:MFC).
Canada's largest insurer, Manulife has had an ugly run of late. In mid-February Manulife reported weaker year-over-year fourth-quarter results, citing an increase in dental claims in Canada, insurance claims in the U.S., and lower interest rates, which have hampered its ability to grow its net investment income. To add salt to its wounds, the recent swoon in oil and natural gas prices has hit the company's investment portfolio hard. All told, Manulife wound up taking a $276 million hit primarily from its energy assets. With Manulife's management offering a somewhat cautious tone for 2015, investors took it as a reason to head for the exit.
Yet heading for the exit now could be one of the worst moves investors can make.
To begin with, the sheer nature of the insurance industry practically guarantees profitability over the long run. Insurers use periods of higher claims as justification to raise their premium prices, while lower claim periods can also lead to premium increases with the reasoning being that insurers are getting a jump on saving for the next catastrophe or claim surge. The business model is one that generates substantial long-term cash flow, and betting against insurers is rarely a smart move for any extended length of time.
Secondly, an improving U.S. economy could be music to Manulife's ears and eyes in 2015 as an interest rate increase might be right around the corner. The Federal Reserve has removed some of its most accommodative language regarding the U.S. economy and the federal funds target rate, implying that an interest rate hike is expected sometime this year. Higher lending rates should yield to better investment income returns and beefier profits.
Finally, Manulife's management team has been clear that it plans to focus on growing its dividend and not wasting capital on share buybacks. Although share repurchases can boost EPS by lowering the number of outstanding shares, I much prefer the company focusing its efforts on the dividend instead. Based on its forward P/E of just eight and its 3% yield, there's a lot of potential value here for investors.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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