BALTIMORE (Stockpickr) -- U.S. stocks have been in rip-roaring rally mode for the last year and change, shoving their way to new all-time highs as recently as last week. Since the end of 2012, for example, the S&P 500 Index has gained almost 36%. In this sort of environment, you'd be forgiven for thinking that "cheap" valuations are nowhere to be had anymore.
But you'd be wrong.
In fact, despite the fact that 2013 was essentially straight up without any really painful corrections, despite sluggish jobs growth and despite politically induced drama around every corner, there are still bargains to be had in this market. While this isn't quite the stock picker's market we had circa 2009, for investors willing to get selective in their value plays, equity indices still aren't hugely overpriced right now, and there are still plenty of interesting opportunities.
Translation: There are still buying opportunities in this market. To find them, we're tearing the lid off of Wall Street's "bargain bin."
In our search, we're focusing in on stocks that currently trade near book value per share -- a number that (generally) means that a company costs less to buy than the value of the stuff it owns.
Often, stocks trade under book value for good reasons: It could mean, for example, that a company has a major black cloud ready to disrupt its businesses, or that its liabilities are under-represented on its balance sheet. To combat those value traps, we're focusing on larger bargains with consistent profitability, and assets that are primarily financed with equity rather than debt.
Without further ado, here's a look at five of the stocks from Wall Street's bargain bin.
First up is $8.7 office supply retailer Staples (SPLS). Staples is the biggest office supply company in the world, with more than 2,000 brick-and-mortar stores in 23 countries. The firm also holds the No. 2 spot in e-commerce, behind only Amazon (AMZN) in terms of annual sales. Less consumer-facing is the firm's sprawling corporate delivery business, which adds up to 40% of the firm's total revenue.
Yes indeed, Staples' business expands far beyond its well-known big box stores. The acquisition of Corporate Express in 2008 was a game changer for Staples; it gave the firm the ability to deliver directly to businesses using its own transportation network, a strategy Amazon is only just starting to embark upon. Because switching costs are high for corporate buyers, Staples is able to acquire most of its customers' office supply spending and keep it.
Even though margins are typically low for big box retail, Staples has boosted profitability by rolling out new private label offerings. By selling its own line of more commoditized products like paperclips and pens, the firm is able to compete much better on cost than it could as merely a retailer.
Over the years, Staples has kept balance sheet leverage low, with only $1.2 billion in net debt -- a reasonable amount for a firm with such a big retail footprint. Likewise, shares only trade for a 43% premium to book value. For comparison, Amazon's price to book ratio is nearly 12x higher. Even retail peer Best Buy (BBY) sports a P/B ratio that's nearly double. Combine that with a perennially high short interest ratio, and Staples looks like a worthwhile bargain name for 2014.
Beer giant Molson Coors Brewing (TAP) is another bargain-priced name worth watching right now. Molson Coors is one of the big-three beer companies, with a portfolio of brands that includes Coors, Molson, Blue Moon, Keystone and Miller Lite (the latter through a joint venture with SABMiller (SBMRY) here in the U.S.). That's enough to give the firm almost half of Canada's beer market, 30% of the U.S. beer market and almost 20% of the U.K. market.
Molson's scale provides it with some distinct advantages. Thanks to archaic alcohol distribution regulations in much of the country, TAP has a direct line to consumers that smaller brewers don't. Likewise, the firm's distribution abroad gives it distinct cost advantages that come with volume. That's particularly true in Canada, where the firm takes its biggest share and biggest profit margins.
The craft beer segment has long been the fastest-growing category in the alcoholic beverage space, and so TAP's decision to consolidate its smaller brands under the Tenth and Blake Beer Company brand. New brews like Batch 19 are drawing some of the high-margin craft beer dollars that the big brewers have been thirsting for. From a book value perspective, shares of TAP look cheap right now, at only an 18% premium to the firm's net book. Molson Coors' 2.6% dividend yield doesn't hurt either.
Xerox (XRX) is a very different company today than it was just a few years ago. In that short time, the firm has distanced itself from its legacy copier business, adding lucrative services like document management to its repertoire. The transition hasn't been without speed bumps, though, and that's a big part of the reason why XRX trades for a paltry price-to-book ratio of 1.03.
Printing has become commoditized in the last few years. Print quality has essentially become the same across most major black and white laser printer manufacturers, so Xerox has focused its resources on areas where it can build an economic moat. Today, Xerox earns just 40% of sales from printer and copier sales. Between document management, business services, and consumables like toner, Xerox earns the majority of its sales and that's helped shove net margins into the mid-single digits. As the legacy business becomes a smaller piece of the puzzle, margins should continue to grow.
Xerox does have a noticeable amount of leverage on its balance sheet -- approximately $6 billion worth of net long-term debt. But that number has come down in each of the last several years, as the firm works to lighten its income statement load each quarter. Between strong momentum and a cheap price tag (XRX currently trades for just 11.8 times earnings), value-conscious investors would do well to pay attention to Xerox's new business.
It's been a great year for technology-focused glassmaker Corning (GLW); in those last 12 months, GLW has rallied more than 53% thanks to strong fundamental growth. But that doesn't mean that shares have gotten expensive. As I write, Corning trades with a price-to-book ratio of just 1.26.
Corning manufactures glass and ceramic substrates used in everything from smartphones to LCD screens, fiber optics, and car electronics. The firm's Gorilla Glass brand of impact-resistant glass panels has been a major growth driver in recent years, as smart phone makers have scrambled to get enough supply of protective screens for their handsets. The fact that mobile electronics are high-churn items means that demand should continue to be high for Corning in the years ahead, even as competitors try to vie for a share of the market.
Corning's acquisition of its joint venture firm Samsung Corning Precision Materials should drop the costs of materials and greatly increase LCD panel manufacturing capacity in 2014. That, in turn, should help secure another year of better-than-anticipated growth at corning.
Investors shouldn't ignore Corning this year. Shares are a lot higher, but they're still a bargain.
Last up on our list is General Motors (GM), a name that doesn't fit the conventional definition of a book value bargain. The firm's balance sheet is a little more labyrinthine than the other names on this list, thanks in large part to hefty pension obligations and looming union contract negotiations. But even with that in mind, GM trades for a price-to-book ratio of 1.42, a substantial discount to biggest rival Ford's P/B ratio at 2.3.
More importantly, that book value includes lots of cash -- $37 billion in cash and investments at last count. That's enough to completely wipe out GM's debt load right now.
In the last five years, GM has shed unprofitable brands and significantly improved its build quality, churning out cars that are dramatically more competitive with their Japanese rivals than ever before. While the U.S. is the largest car market in the world, it's far from GM's biggest business. Nearly 70% of GM vehicles are sold outside of North America today, with a huge share coming from emerging-market countries such as China and Brazil.
Combine serious automotive market tailwinds with a share price that's only 15x trailing earnings, and GM looks like a bargain right now -- even if it's not exactly a deep value play. And meanwhile, the government's sale of its stake in GM should help boost the voting power of common shareholders as a class in 2014.
To see these value-centric names in action, check out the Bargain Bin Buys Fall 2013 portfolio on Stockpickr.
-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.