By Matt Doiron
In mid February, billionaire George Soros filed his 13F with the SEC, disclosing many of his long equity positions in U.S. stocks as of the end of December. Even though the information in 13Fs is a bit old by the time it is released, there are still multiple ways for investors to make use of it. We have found that the most popular small-cap stocks among hedge funds generate an excess return of 18 percentage points per year (read more about our research on small-cap picks) and other strategies are probably possible as well. We can also treat stock picks from big names such as Soros as initial ideas and refine them further according to traditional value criteria, with investors then researching in detail any stocks, which seem appealing. Here are Soros's five largest stock holdings with both trailing and forward price-to-earnings multiples of 15 or lower (or see the full list of his stock picks):
Soros increased his holdings of Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL) by 55% to a total of 9.6 million shares as of the end of December. With US Airways (LCC) buying American Airlines, industry consolidation may push up prices at all airlines including Delta. The stock price is up 74% in the last year as the market anticipates better business conditions, though even this has resulted in a trailing P/E of only 14. Analyst expectations for earnings growth imply a forward earnings multiple of 5, and we would recommend that investors look at Delta and its peers as potential value stocks at these levels.
The 13F reported that Soros more than doubled his stake in JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) and owned 2.6 million shares at the end of the fourth quarter. The large bank trades right at the book value of its equity, occupying a middle ground between Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) on one end and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) on the other. JPMorgan Chase's trailing P/E is 10, with revenue and net income growing at double-digit rates last quarter compared to the fourth quarter of 2011. We think big banks are another value opportunity, and JPMorgan Chase is certainly worthy of consideration.
Soros was also buying shares of Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL), in contrast to many hedge funds; in fact, Apple lost its place as the most popular stock among hedge funds last quarter to AIG (NYSE:AIG) (find more of hedge funds' favorite stocks). The fall in Apple's stock price, in anticipation of an era of lower earnings, has brought the trailing earnings multiple down to 10. Market expectations are diverging wildly from analysts, whose growth expectations currently imply a five-year PEG ratio of 0.5. That is probably too rosy a prediction but it's certainly possible that Apple will manage to keep its net income about flat.
CF Industries Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:CF) was another of Soros's cheap picks; at a market capitalization of $13 billion, it carries an earnings multiple of 9 based on analyst consensus for 2014. While earnings were up moderately in its most recent quarter compared to the same period in the previous year, revenue was down and so we doubt that CF's earnings performance is sustainable. The stock is certainly still cheap in quantitative terms, but it might be best to compare it to other fertilizer companies or other stocks tied to agriculture.
Even after cutting his stake in Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) by 50% Soros still owned 1.3 million shares of the discount retailer. At a trailing P/E of 15, Wal-Mart is actually not much cheaper than the dollar stores, some of whom have continued to experience significant growth recently. Wal-Mart itself has been doing fairly well, with net income up 9% in the fourth quarter of 2012 versus a year earlier, and the stock has little exposure to the broader economy at a beta of 0.4. As a result it may qualify as a value stock but it's possible that its competitors would make even better buys.