Let's look at some numbers. According to my stock screeners, 174 of the stocks in the S&P 500 trade for less than stated book value. The Schlossian screen I run to discover companies that trade below book value with very little debt and insider ownership shows more than 600 names, the most since 2003. More than 100 of those have market caps over $100 million, which is also the highest since the Internet went bust.
More than 100 stocks on the NYSE trade for less than a buck, and more than 500 of the names on the Big Board are under $5 a share. My good friend Corban Bates, a recent USMA grad and budding value investor, sent me a list this weekend of net-nets that had 120 names. Almost a third of these were profitable companies. For the first time I can recall, there are enough net-net stocks to build your entire portfolio with these Graham- and Dodd-type bargains. Some of these, like Adaptec (ADPT) and Electro Scientific (ESIO - Get Report), I have written about, and fellow RealMoney contributor Jonathan Heller has also done a great job covering stocks that trade below net current asset value.
In addition to my regular weekend reading, I got a chance to go through Marty Whitman's shareholder letters for the first quarter. The Third Avenue Funds, like a lot of others, had a brutal 2008, but Whitman has been among the very best asset based investors over the long run. He noted that about three-quarters of his fund was concentrated in net-net stocks. He also pointed out the futility in trying to pick a bottom and advised concentrating on the underlying value of the companies whose shares you were buying.