RSH: Phoenix From Ashes? Or Cigar Butt?

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Among the top performers in the Russell 3000 Index year to date in 2013, is a name that has been all but written off by many. Frankly, you can't blame the negative sentiment that has surrounded RadioShack ( RSH).

Yet, there's been a renewed interest in the name since the end of last year and shares are up 58% so far in 2013. While it's way too early to declare that this is a phoenix is rising from the ashes, it's possible that investors are realizing that even with all of the company's faults, issues and challenges, of which there are many, the name may have simply been punished too harshly.

The company's run-up is due in part to a combination of events, but quarterly results are not among them because we've seen no new earnings numbers -- and won't until fourth quarter results are released prior to the market open on Feb. 26.

While an upgrade by Zacks and cancellation of a money-losing deal with Target ( TGT) benefitted the stock in late January, the next leg-up, which was embodied by a 10% move last Friday, was due to a leadership change. The company named Joseph Magnacca, formerly an executive VP with Walgreen ( WAG), as the new CEO, replacing James Gooch, who resigned in September.

Magnacca has his work cut out for him. How do you save an old line electronics retailer operating in an industry that's become a graveyard littered with other formerly successful electronics retailers; one that is being dominated by the online retailers that don't require the lease payments that go along with operating brick and mortar stores? It's a tall order at best.

But frankly, I don't ever see RadioShack going back to the $70-plus stock it was more than a decade ago, or as a powerhouse brand. There may be a place for it in the industry, in scaled down form, or perhaps it would be better off sold. That's what the new CEO needs to figure out.

As a value investor, I often look for situations where it appears the market has overly punished a company. Sometimes the situations are downright ugly, and few, sometimes quite wisely, would want to deploy any capital. Even the ugliest of situations is worth exploring if you can buy $2 worth of assets for $1. By the same token, the shiniest, best-looking, most heralded names worth $1 are not worth buying for $2.

There's often a disconnect between price and value when it comes to the "cult" stocks -- those everyone's talking about, the "must-own." The same is true of at least some of the names the market has given up on.

In RadioShack's case, despite Friday's 10% move, the company is still a net/net (trades below net current asset value). At Tuesday's close, the company trades at .97 times net current asset value, and .53 times tangible book value per share.

Radio Shack could, indeed, turn out to be not a phoenix, but a used up cigar butt. Perhaps it can't be saved, and there will be no suitors interested in acquiring it. That's why it's wise to keep these situations as a small piece of your portfolio.

Also, keep some Pepto-Bismol on hand if you don't have a strong stomach.

At the time of publication, the author was long RSH.

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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