NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - Jim Chanos -- founder of Kynikos Associates-- warned that cheap looking stocks aren't necessarily so. The famed short seller known for his early warnings on Enron says that while dud stocks can be camouflaged as cheap, there are ways for smart investors to uncover land mines. Chanos made his remarks to an audience of professional investors at the Value Investing Congress on Monday. Among the companies Chanos says to stay away from are ExxonMobil ( XOM) and its integrated oil peers, ITT Education Services ( ESI) and other for-profit education companies, Gamestop ( GME) and resource producers tied to Chinese growth like Vale ( VALE). On the tech front, Chanos said, "Technological obsolescence has killed more value investors in the last 20 years than anything else." Shares of once giant innovators of technology like Research in Motion ( RIMM), Hewlett Packard ( HPQ) and Eastman Kodak ( EK) may show the impacts of a lack of innovation in their product offerings. With companies like Eastman Kodak, Blockbuster and mini computer makers, Chanos told value investors to watch out for stocks that look cheap --but only based on managements expectations and methods of valuation. "When a business changes, a lot of metrics that a value investor uses become completely irrelevant, particularly in technology" said Chanos. He added, "cash flows drop off faster than
management thinks they do, they hit a tipping point and drop off precipitously." Looking at cable providers, that sector's CEO's like to bandy strong earnings when interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization are excluded. But despite management's projections downplaying one-time costs, they have a reputation of being consistently capital intensive -- "the idea of using EBITDA in a capital intensive business is absurd," said Chanos. He added it's not just spending, one time restructuring charges sometimes aren't so infrequent, "ask Kodak shareholders," he added. "Be triple concerned of a metric management pulls out to show the shorts are wrong," said Chanos pointing to Tyco's ( TYC) emphasis on its cash flow that confirmed net income figures prior to fraud allegations in 2002. Currently Chanos sees value traps in integrated oil, for profit education, national commodity producers and Chinese banks. Costs have grown dramatically for oil giants and national oil producers, pushing the production and development costs from $10 a barrel of oil equivalent to $37 a barrel -- the price that West Texas Intermediate fell to at the lows of the recession, said Chanos. With gas, it's the opposite problem, revenue is falling with gas trading prices. "We believe value is still being destroyed in the integrated oil companies, specifically the grand daddy ExxonMobil," he said.
With for profit education, rising delinquencies of students and the loss of government subsidies make Chanos question the strength of future earnings even if the stocks are cheap based on trailing earnings. At Chinese banks it's similar story, he sees rising real estate loan delinquencies -- and a government backstop for depositors but not necessarily shareholders. About a Chinese decline, Chanos's been early with warnings even as the economy's continued to expand quickly. To the idea of being early, Chanos said sometimes confirmation "doesn't show up till your midway through the decline." According to reports released Tuesday, Chine grew at it's slowest pace in two years -- still 9.1%. Maybe Chanos's China call is getting closer to midway in the decline.