If you ever shopped for a DVD in a video store you would typically walk past a bin of cheap movies on the way to the new-release rack. The new titles would be pricey, so you might turn to the jagged bargain pile, the top layer picked over because it was too hard to rummage through without work gloves and a lot of patience. But if you committed to scouring carefully and systematically, you could sometimes find a jewel.
The bargain-bin pickings in today's market are slim, to be sure, but that doesn't mean there are none to be found. True value investors understand that shopping for good deals goes much deeper than the sticker price. When valuations are stretched, savvy investors can find opportunities by digging into company financials and evaluating operations based on fundamental metrics. Just ask Warren Buffett, who has repeatedly declared, "It is far better to buy a wonderful business at a fair price than a fair business at a wonderful price."
In a recent interview with WealthTrack's Consuelo Mack, Royce Funds portfolio manager and small-cap specialist Charlie Dreifus addresses the current environment: "When the market loses its bearings as to what proper valuation is," he says, "absolute value kicks in." This occurs, Dreifus explains, when the cost of purchasing a company's operations using conservative earnings numbers (i.e., assuming no improvement) exceeds the cost of financing the purchase. "Absolute value," he stresses, "ultimately leads to absolute returns." Dreifus also underscores the importance of strong management and competitive advantage -- giving a nod to Warren Buffett--"a company should have a moat, a niche, something that makes it unique."
Like the great Benjamin Graham, Dreifus approaches stock buys as though he were buying the company itself. While many analysts use a variety of complex measures to assess a stock's past price patterns and predict its future movements, Graham focused on stocks with a high margin of safety -- where the stock price was low compared to the underlying value of the business. Dreifus takes it a step further, "I select securities that, in the parlance of Ben Graham, have a high margin of safety...squared."
Using stock screening models inspired by some of the best and most successful investors of all time, I've identified the following four stocks that stack up on their underlying fundamentals:
Gilead Sciences (GILD) is a research-based pharmaceutical company that earns a perfect score under our Joel Greenblatt-inspired stock-screening model due to its earnings yield (29.88%) and return-on-capital of 46.88%. Our Warren Buffett-based strategy likes the company's predictable and continually expanding earnings-per-share (9-year average of 31.9%) and its debt-free balance sheet. Average return-on-equity over the past 10 years is 37.8%, well exceeding the minimum requirement of 15%. Average ROE over the past three years is exceptional at 76.9%. Management's use of retained earnings reflects a return of 25.1%, a bonus.
Thor Industries (THO) manufactures a range of recreational vehicles in the U.S. sold primarily in the U.S. and Canada. Under our James O'Shaughnessy-based stock screen, the company gets a thumb's up for persistent growth in earnings-per-share and a price-sales ratio of 1.1, under the maximum allowed of 1.5 (based on trailing 12-month sales). Our Peter Lynch-based strategy favors the relationship between the company's price-earnings ratio and its growth in earnings-per-share (PEG ratio, a Lynch hallmark), which is required to be under 1.0. At 0.90, THO meets this criterion. Leverage is considered favorable, with a debt-equity ratio of 25.65%.
ManpowerGroup (MAN) is a provider of workforce solutions and services that earns a perfect score under our O'Shaughnessy-inspired stock screen due to its favorable price-sales ratio of 0.33 (based on trailing 12-month sales), which is nearly half the allowed maximum of 1.5. Persistent earnings growth adds interest. The PEG ratio of 0.75 gets high marks from our Lynch-based model, and our screen based on the investing tenets of Kenneth Fisher favors the long-term EPS growth rate of 18.24% (versus the minimum 15% required by this model).
NVR (NVR) is engaged in the construction and sale of single-family detached homes, townhomes and condominiums. Our Peter Lynch-based investment strategy likes the PEG ratio of 0.62, and the average EPS growth rate (based on 3, 4 and 5-year averages) of 29.9% falls nicely within the preferred range of between 20% and 50%. The company earns a perfect score under our O'Shaughnessy-based model due to its persistent EPS growth and price-sales ratio of 1.22, which meets the criterion of being below 1.5.