NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I admit to spending time looking at the pocket change I receive from the bank, fast food drive through or local grocery store.
Perhaps it's not all that strange for a value investor. But part of the somewhat strange habit, which elicits funny looks from my family when they catch me in the act, is also that I was a coin collector as a child. You never know what you might find in your hand.
While it's rare to discover anything with numismatic value, I am seeing a proportionately high number of copper pennies these days, primarily those minted prior to 1982. In that year, the U.S. mint changed the penny recipe from 95% copper to 97.5% zinc. You may consider this a boring and useless fact until you know that, at current prices, pre-1982 pennies contain 2.28 cents worth of copper, while the newer variety contain about a half cent worth of zinc.
In some ways, the hunt for copper pennies is similar to value investing. You've probably heard it described as looking for "fifty-cent dollars." Now you can substitute a "two-cent pennies" for the more common metaphor. Whatever you call it, the objective is the same: to identify companies that are undervalued, overlooked and under-appreciated whose value may ultimately be realized by the market.
There are many methods and schools of thought about how to identify value, and I utilize several different ones myself. I am partial, however, to those that consider a low price-to-book value or price-to-tangible-book value as a factor. To that end, I have screened for companies with the following attributes in search of two-cent pennies:
- Market cap greater than $500 million
- Price-to-tangible-book value below 1
- All sectors except financials
- Long-term debt-to-equity ratio below 50%
- Positive earnings in the trailing 12 months
That represents a rather strict criteria set, so it's not surprising that just 11 names make the cut.
, the biggest of the bunch, currently trades at 0.88 times tangible-book value and 8 times 2013 consensus earnings estimates. After nearly tripling in value from its 2008 lows, the shares have lost about half of their value since early 2011.
Corning is also cash rich, with more than $6.3 billion, or $4.21 a share, in cash and short-term investments. It also has about $3.26 billion in debt, primarily long-term, but that equates to a low 15.1% long-term debt-to-equity ratio. Shares, which currently yield 2.5%, are not all that well liked by the Street, and expectations are low.
Other companies that qualify include
, a net/net that I own. Oil- and gas-related companies are well represented with
Farm products company
and semiconductor companies
also made the list. And rounding out the 11 qualifiers is conglomerate
, a name that was featured in a May column I wrote,
Lest you think that you can get rich simply by going to the bank and buying thousands of rolls of pennies, I did a little experiment several years back when I realized that copper pennies were, at that time, worth 1.5 cents.
I purchased $10 worth of pennies at our local bank and, with the help of my childen, unrolled them, inspected them and separated the copper variety. Unfortunately, there were just 10 copper pennies out of 1,000, a miserable 1% hit rate. Complicating matters as copper continued to move higher, was the fact that a law was passed in late 2006, making it illegal to melt pennies (and nickels, too).
So much for get-rich-quick schemes. Value investing is not easy, but it's easier than that.
At the time of publication, the author was long IM
This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.
Jon is also the founder of the
, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.