'Go Where the Crisis Is -- Europe' to Buy Stocks

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- David Marcus, manager of the Evermore Global Value Fund ( EVGBX), says alarming news stories about Europe's debt debacle -- including a possible default in Greece -- is creating the biggest bargains in two decades.

As a global value-fund manager, Marcus has put his focus squarely on European stocks, as many stock indices -- from Germany to France to Italy -- are mired in bear markets after plunging on sovereign bankruptcy fears plaguing the continent.

Old Mutual PLC (U.K.)

"We're in a world of headline readers, and they see it's pretty bad out there," Marcus says. "What our investors are paying us to do is sift past the headlines and dig deep. There are a lot of problems in Europe. We're finding that while some things are worse than the headlines, there are more opportunities there than I've seen in 20 years."

As Greece teeters on the brink of a possible default, the ripple effects would rock every country in the Eurozone, from weaker countries in the south (Italy and Spain) to the powerhouses up north (Germany and the U.K.). French banks such as Societe Generale have already been downgraded by credit-ratings agencies on potential exposure to the crisis.

"You want to go to where the crisis is," Marcus says. "There is a crisis everywhere, from the U.S. to Japan. But the biggest one of all is Europe. When investors are in panic mode, they're dumping things indiscriminately. They don't care about valuation. It's as if somebody yelled 'fire' in the continent, and everyone is running out. And we don't have to run in. We're taking our time to walk in and look at among the rubble for gems."

Marcus has over 20 years' experience in the industry, even serving for a time as a restructuring expert, so he knows the patience and discipline required when dealing with investments in a beaten-down environment. Marcus takes a private-equity approach in picking stocks.

"We're more cynical because we've seen these things in the past," Marcus says. "We come at it with a better view. There are a lot of value investors out there who buy cheap for cheap's sake. We have no interest in that. We want to know that there is a change of some sort that will bring the value out."

Started in January 2010, the Evermore Global Value Fund has underperformed the benchmark MSCI All Country World Index in nearly every time span, but Marcus isn't apologizing for the weak performance yet.

"Why are we down? We're investing in markets that are tough right now. Europe is truly a special situation," Marcus says. "Our stuff won't work overnight. These restructuring cases take time. We have to plant our seeds now while everyone is still freaking out. History has proven repeatedly that when you buy in the middle of a crisis, your biggest regret is that you didn't buy more."

Marcus says he has found "some compelling investments that are stupid cheap" using his special-situation focus. While the crisis has hammered the share prices of many European companies and spooked investors, the Evermore Global Value Fund has been snatching up companies that are making the sovereign crisis a benefit rather than a hindrance.

"Across Europe, companies are taking advantage of the crisis," Marcus says. "Companies are substantially smarter than the countries they are in. They're finding ways to take advantage of the crisis to prepare their businesses for the next generation. Companies are accelerating negotiations with unions. They're consolidating facilities. Boards are more aggressive with management."

Not everything in Europe is jumping out as a screaming buy, as Marcus is using a conservative approach rather than rushing in headlong. Marcus says he assumes Greece will default as part of his investment thesis. "If it doesn't happen, there is upside to my thesis. I'm still getting stocks that are cheap under 5 times earnings," he says.

The fund has avoided every European bank stock, based on the assumption Greece will default as the worst-case scenario. Despite that threat, Marcus likely wouldn't be purchasing European banks because of their opaqueness.

"Over the past 20 years of investing in Europe, I can't remember the last time I bought a bank stock," he says. "I've always stayed away from the banks in Europe. We used to say they were black holes. We couldn't figure out how they earned their money. We couldn't really understand what was going on. Despite the effort for more transparency, I don't think today is much different."

However, the Evermore Global Value Fund is finding value in European industrials, media and insurance companies. The following pages detail some of Marcus' favorite stocks from across the Atlantic.

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Grupo Prisa ( PRIS) (Spain)

Company Profile: Grupo Prisa is a Spanish media conglomerate. The company owns newspapers and magazines, but it is also a cable TV and radio station operator.

Current Share Price: $4.82 (Sept. 16)

Marcus' Take: When Marcus says "Spain," "media" and "Europe" togther, it's three strikes against a company in investors' eyes. Grupo Prisa is one of the largest holdings in the Evermore Global Value Fund, but Marcus isn't betting on the company for its newspapers. Grupo Prisa also has an education business and it produces textbooks, which is where Marcus sees opportunity.

"These are sold in Spain but there is a huge opportunity in emerging Latin America, like Brazil, Chile and Mexico," Marcus says. "Those are emerging markets where they are trying to better educate the people. Owning a textbook business in those markets is a great business to be in."

Marcus is also keen on the company's restructuring effort. Grupo Prisa has new management as of April 1 and recently saw the first layoffs in the history of the company. "They're streamlining operations, selling off excess real estate," he says. "They're doing all the classic things you should do to turn the business around. They're changing the ways executives are compensated, tying it more to the business."

Marcus notes that the stock trades at less than five times earnings and four times cash. The company has also reduced the debt on the balance sheet from 6 billion euros to about 3.5 billion euros. "They're still aggressively working on restructuring the debt today," Marcus adds.


Bollore (France)

Company Profile: Bollore is a French conglomerate founded in 1822. The company produces everything from shrink-wrap films to thin paper for industrial catalogs to lithium batteries for electric cars. The company even delivers home heating oil and operates a television station.

Current Share Price: 173.70 euros (Sept. 16)

Marcus' Take: While Marcus appreciates all facets of Bollore's business, he's particularly interested in the company's control and operation of ports and container terminals. Bollore operates 40 ports in Africa, which is an emerging region Marcus wants to exposure to.

"Africa is one of the last of the untapped emerging markets," he says. "I'm sneaking into Africa markets today, which don't have the same protections and transparency as French markets, where Bollore is based. When I look at the assets of the company, I'm getting all this value for 50 cents on the dollar."

Old Mutual PLC (U.K.)

Company Profile: Old Mutual, founded in 1845, is an asset-management firm and life-insurance company. Old Mutual offers long-term savings for retirement, asset management in the U.S., banking in South Africa and short-term insurance.

Current Share Price: 115.80 British pounds (Sept. 16)

Marcus' Take: Marcus calls Old Mutual a "classic restructuring story," something that plays perfectly into his investment style. Chief executive Julian Roberts took over the company shortly after Lehman Brothers failed in 2008 and has been working to fix the company. Of his recent moves, Old Mutual sold its U.S. life business to hedge fund Harbinger Capital for $350 million.

"It has been undermanaged for 20 years," Marcus says of Old Mutual. "The CEO has slowly been going through each and every business line, restructuring it, changing the people, increasing the margins, refocusing on how they do business. That move to slowly but surely restructure the business is something we like."


Fiat Industrial SpA (Italy)

Company Profile: Fiat Industrial is the Italian maker of trucks, tractors and other commercial vehicles. The company was spun off from carmaker Fiat SpA at the beginning of 2011.

Current Share Price: 6.26 euros (Sept. 16)

Marcus' Take: Marcus likes Fiat Industrial as the company sells into both emerging markets and developed markets, giving him strong cross-section exposure. However, Fiat saw that they weren't getting value out of the business, which is why it was spun off from the auto unit earlier this year.

"It's truly the industrial unit, and no one is focused on it," Marcus says. "It's a restructuring case. It's a global player. No one wants to look at these companies, which is the perfect time to look at them."

Constantin Medien AG (Germany)

Company Profile: Formerly known as EM.Sport Media AG, Constantin Medien AG is a German a media company. Its primary focus is on sports through its holding in the Swiss media company Highlight Communications AG. The company also has a film unit, responsible for movies like Resident Evil and The Three Musketeers.

Current Share Price: 1.52 euros (Sept. 16)

Marcus' Take: Marcus is a fan of Constantin Medien as the company markets the UEFA Champions League in Europe thanks to its 49% stake in Highlight Communications. Marcus expects Constantin Medien and Highlight to eventually merge, which could create value for shareholders.

"Soccer fanatics are everywhere in Europe," he says. "This company has the global broadcast rights. It's a very powerful asset to have. Sports rights have been exploding in value. So you have sports rights, broadcasting, a film library and movie studio, and we're paying less than six times earnings. Not only that, you get a strong balance sheet and good management.

-- Written by Robert Holmes in Boston.

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Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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