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What Will the Markets Do in 2014? Wrong Question

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Yesterday, someone asked me to predict how the markets would perform in 2014. I don't like that question, and wouldn't answer. He persisted: "What if I were holding a gun to your head?" I stuttered and stammered, because the truth is, I can't even pretend to know the future with any degree of certainty.

What I did tell him was that I am not finding a great deal of value in the market at this point and that sooner or later we will see a correction of sorts. Call me Captain Obvious, but that was the best I could do. Every year, we go through the same stock market-prediction drill, and it is nothing more than a fool's errand. How many times have we seen the standard prediction that the S&P 500 will rise 6 to 8% next year?

My time is better spent, I believe, in trying to identify cheap and overlooked companies. Sometimes they appear to be downright ugly, but some just may be diamonds in the rough. It's a difficult environment for value these days, and so you just have to dig a little deeper. I often start that process through stock screening and have used several value-based screens over the years that have unveiled some unlikely winners.

As the year comes to a close I am on the hunt for smaller companies that are awash in cash and have the following attributes:

  • Market capitalizations between $100 million and $5 billion
  • Cash and short-term investments greater than 30% of market cap
  • Price to book value below 2
  • Long-term debt to equity below 50%
  • Consensus estimates indicate profitability on a forward basis
  • No financial companies

This search currently yields nearly four dozen qualifiers. Perhaps not surprisingly, more than half of them are technology-related companies, including familiar names Benchmark Electronics (BHE) and AVX Corp (AVX - Get Report), both of which are former net/nets (companies trading below net current asset value).

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