Leadership is a quality that's tough to measure, but it still plays an important role in the future of any company. This is particularly true for companies that are in turnaround mode. They simply can't afford to make mistakes. Below are three companies that appear to have outstanding leadership, with the common factor being that all three CEOs are women. And each company's stock performance has been robust year to date.
HP and Meg Whitman
Meg Whitman took over as Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) CEO in September 2011 following the brief tenure of Leo Apotheker, inheriting a bloated company that needed restructuring and was the leader in a declining industry.
Whitman has apparently stopped the bleeding and put the company on a turnaround path, even though it meant the loss of roughly 34,000 jobs. She has also made moves to restore HP's competitiveness in a very competitive industry. Whitman is navigating HP into faster-growing markets with less competition. This includes low-cost servers. HP entered a deal earlier this year with Chinese manufacturer Foxconn to make servers that will be focused on cloud computing.
The HP turnaround looks to be in full swing, with shares up 20% this year. Since November 2012, its shares are up over 175%, compared to the S&P 500 that's up 40%. This comes as HP has managed to boost margins despite sales declines over the past couple years. Despite the fact that sales have fallen by nearly 7% annually over the last three years, its net profit margin has gone from -9.2% in 2012 to 6.8% over the trailing 12 months.
Some areas that HP is investing in that could help revive sales growth is the new cloud initiative, Helion, in which it has invested $1 billion. Helion offers integrated products and services on an open-source platform. Then, for big data users, the company has introduced the HP Shark system, which is said to be twice as fast as other solutions.
HP only trades at a forward P/E of nine based on next year's earnings estimates. It also offers a 1.9% dividend yield, which is only a 20% payout of earnings.
General Motors and Mary Barra
General Motors (NYSE: GM) managed to overcome a century-old gender barrier by naming Mary Barra as its CEO, which made her the first female CEO in the global auto industry. She's been with the company for three decades in various positions, such as VP of global product development.
She inherited a company that has recovered from its taxpayer-funded bailout in 2009, but still faces significant challenges. Its North American profit margins remain lower than Ford's (NYSE:F), and it's battling deep pocketed rivals such as Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAY) and Toyota (NYSE:TM) globally. But Barra has remained poised, even amid the vast recalls the company has been issuing. She also appeared before Congress in connection with the ignition switch issues. GM's business continues to do well, with the company reporting that global sales for the second quarter of 2014 were the best since 2005. Future growth in international markets should be driven by continued demand from China, India, and the other emerging markets.
The automaker's stock still looks undervalued. Its P/E ratio based on next year's earnings estimates is right at eight, which puts its P/E-to-growth ratio at a low 0.8. Don't forget that GM is also an income play, offering a 3.3% dividend yield.
Yahoo! and Marissa Mayer
On her second-year anniversary as CEO of Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), Marissa Mayer had to deal with a rather rough quarter when it comes to earnings. The company's earnings fell short of even Wall Street expectations.
Revenues came in at $1.08 billion, which were down 4% year on year. But display advertising was also down, falling 8%, which is a key to Mayer's turnaround strategy. But the tech company's stock price continues to be supported by its 22% stake in Alibaba. Yahoo could see $15 billion in cash when it sells part of its stake in Alibaba's upcoming IPO.
It's said that the value of its Alibaba stake equals its market cap, which means investors get the rest of the company for free. Wall Street's average price target is also over 20% higher than the current trading price of around $33.
Mayer's probably had the rockiest tenure of the three female CEOs listed. Her two years at Yahoo have produced mixed results, ranging from impressive traffic numbers to the less than impressive revenues (which have been falling). Not to mention the apparent inability to monetize the traffic. While she's gone on an acquisition spree since joining the company, they have yet to generate meaningful returns. For now, it looks like Yahoo's stock price will continue to be dependent on the Alibaba and Yahoo Japan investments, which does give Mayer some leeway in trying to right the core Yahoo business.
For investors looking for stocks with solid leadership, the three turnaround stories above are great places to look. All three happen to have female CEOs, but each stock is compelling from a valuation perspective with catalysts that could drive the stock prices higher over the next year or so.
Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. The author wrote this article themselves, and it expresses their own opinions. The author is not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). The author has no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.