The Next Best Thing to Net/Net Stocks

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's unlikely that you'll find any references to the term "double net" in the financial media. That's because it's a term that I invented a few years ago. Leave it to a deep-value guy to come with such a crazy-sounding term.

But double net is certainly not rocket science. It's a concept that describes companies trading at a relatively cheap multiple of net current assets, in this case at between one and two times net current asset value.

You may recall that companies trading at less than one times NCAV are referred to as net/nets, a deep-value investment concept developed by Ben Graham, the father of value investing. Double net takes that concept one step further.

Net/nets are few and far between these days, which is typical when markets are generally heading higher. Double nets may be the next-best thing in small-cap deep-value land in terms of potential opportunities. In a sense, they are the "minor league" of sorts for net/nets.

When looking for ideas in double net land, I utilize the following criteria:
  • Market cap is greater than $250 million;
  • U.S.-based and trades on a major exchange;
  • Trades at between one and two times NCAV (defined as current assets minus total liabilities from the most recent quarter)
  • Not a financial company.

At this writing, there are 43 companies that meet the criteria. Interestingly, nearly two-thirds of them are technology-related companies; the current crop of double nets are certainly are not well diversified.

At the top of the list in terms of market cap, you will find wholesale technology products distributor Tech Data ( TECD), a former net/net that currently trades for 1.16 times NCAV, 9.4 times trailing earnings, and about 7.7 times 2014 consensus estimates. The balance sheet is strong; the company ended the latest quarter with $447 million, or $11.21 a share, in cash and $89 million in debt.

TECD Chart TECD data by YCharts

AVX ( AVX), which manufactures electronic components, is next up. With a market cap of $1.58 billion, AVX is trading at 1.42 times NCAV, about 14 times trailing earnings and just under 12 times the 2014 consensus estimate.

AVX also has a very solid balance sheet -- a fairly common occurrence with double nets -- and ended its most recent quarter with $837 million, or $4.94 a share, in cash and short-term investments. There's an additional $254 million, or $1.50 a share, in long-term investments on the books.

AVX also pays a 75-cent quarterly dividend and currently yields 3.2%. Shares are down about 33% year to date. I have never owned AVX, but it has my attention now.

AVX Chart AVX data by YCharts

Other technology-related names making the cut include Electro Scientific Industries ( ESIO), which I've owned for a few years; Synnex ( SNX); and Benchmark Electronics ( BHE), which I wrote abut recently, when it was trading below NCAV. Since then, the company reported a great quarter, and its share price rise has taken it out of net/net land.

BHE Chart BHE data by YCharts

Non-technology names that make the grade include fine watch seller Movado ( MOV), another former net/net that I've previously owned, as well as G-III Apparel Group ( GIII), toy maker Jakks Pacific ( JAKK) and online retailer PC Connection ( PCCC).

This is indeed a very fascinating world of interesting names, and I'll reveal additional companies that meet the criteria in future columns.

At the time of publication, the author had a position in ESIO.

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 Cheap Stocks Web site, 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.

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