Deep-Value Pickings Are Slim, and Not All That Great

 | Apr 21, 2017 | 11:00 AM EDT
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As the broad markets continue to plow forward, the deep-value net/net cupboards (companies trading below net current asset value) are becoming even more bare. I did not think that was possible; indeed, I've never seen an environment quite like this one for net/nets, and I feel a bit like a broken record for saying so again. What's more, it has not been a great environment for small value for the year to date, with the Russell 2000 Value and Russell 2000 Microcap indices down 0.5% and 1.6%, respectively. In such an environment, I'd expect to see more companies to be jettisoned to net/net land.

My latest perusal of current net/nets revealed just eight with market caps greater than $50 million. When you throw out the early-stage biotechnology companies that will burn through the cash on their books (which technically helps them qualify for net/net status), that leaves just four.

FreightCar America (RAIL) tops the list and is the only name with a market cap in excess of $100 million. The company has seen some tough times lately, as earnings have disappointed the past couple quarters and orders are not very strong. What is strong, however, is the balance sheet, and it should see the company through to better times.

RAIL ended the latest quarter with $92.8 million, or $7.50 per share, in cash and no debt. It currently trades for 0.99x net current asset value (current assets less all liabilities) and just 0.67x tangible book value per share. Consensus estimates call for losses this year and next, but the company appears to have the wherewithal to make it through to better times. Plus, with so much negativity, any positive news could bolster the shares. RAIL currently yields 2.8%.

The other three net/nets are Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores (SHOS) , Richardson Electronics (RELL) and CPI Aerostructures (CVU) . I would not touch SHOS with a 10-foot pole. Net/net retailers are challenging to begin with, and SHOS continues to struggle. The quality of current assets is not strong as the bulk of them are comprised of inventory (as is common with retailers), and it operates within an increasingly competitive environment. SHOS currently trades at 0.37x net current asset value and 0.29x tangible book value.

I continue to hold RELL, which has $4 a share in cash and no debt, but this one has been disappointing and it is looking more and more like the dreaded value trap. Currently trading at 0.74x net current asset value and 0.62x tangible book value per share, it appeared as though revenue was stabilizing, but the company continues to have difficulty in earning a profit. RELL currently yields 4.1%.

My most recent net/net addition is CPI Aerostructures, which currently trades at 0.93x net current asset value and 0.84x tangible book value. While CVU is not as cash-rich as RAIL and RELL, it is expected to be profitable in 2017 and 2018 and trades at 7.5x next year's "consensus" earnings estimates (note the quotation marks around consensus, as just three analysts cover the company).

Slim pickings, indeed.

Please note that due to factors including low market capitalization and/or insufficient public float, we consider SHOS, RELL and CVU to be a small-cap stocks. You should be aware that such stocks are subject to more risk than stocks of larger companies, including greater volatility, lower liquidity and less publicly available information, and that postings such as this one can have an effect on their stock prices.

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