By David Sterman
It's pretty easy to spot the major investment winners of the last decade. Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has risen from less than $10 in 2003 to nearly $400 today. Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX), Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG), Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM), and Lululemon (Nasdaq: LULU) and a few dozen other stocks have also managed to double, triple, or even quadruple in recent years.
The vast majority of stocks, however, haven't had it so good. They've repeatedly risen and fell during the past decade, with only moderate gains to show for their 10-year performance. Bringing up the rear are the decade's losers, which now sell well below levels seen a decade ago. Most of them deserve the drubbing they've received because they've done little to generate any tangible improvement on their income statements -- and in some cases, they have lost major ground to rivals. Shares of Nokia (NYSE: NOK), for example, have fallen 90% since 2001. The company should have never ceded ground to new smartphones such as the iPhone, and chances are, the company will never regain its former luster.
But rummaging through the waste bin of the last decade, some companies still have a solid shot at regaining lost glory. They're at least so cheap now, that value investors are bound to take notice, even if growth prospects are dim. Here are three former highflyers that are finally worth a second look.
1. Xerox (NYSE: XRX)
Price on Sept. 9, 2001: $8.62
Recent price: $7.41
This company is the turnaround story that gets no respect. During the past two years, this office-equipment supplier has radically pared costs while making a major acquisition in the outsourced services segment, acquiring Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) for $6.4 billion in 2010.
The combined entities have hardly created a growth platform -- sales are expected to grow in the low single-digits in 2011 and 2012 -- but the cash flow strength is quite impressive. Xerox now generates roughly $2 billion in annual free cash flow. Further identified cost-savings yet to come should help maintain free cash flow at or above current levels. Using free cash flow as a gauge, analysts think shares can rise to $12 or $14, yielding at least a 50% gain.
2. Cisco Systems (Nasdaq: CSCO)
Price on Sept. 7, 2001: $14.26
Recent price: $15.82
Thanks to a recent rally, shares of Cisco finally pushed back up above levels seen 10 years ago. But it's surely been a trying path to get there. For much of the past two years, Cisco has looked like an attractive value play to me and a handful of sell-side analysts, yet shares have moved ever lower anyway, which is known as a "value trap."
By the time shares moved below $14 in early August, the crowd of Cisco's believers started to grow, noting that current prices are at a sharp disconnect from Cisco's cash flow statement, even if growth remains anemic. Even with a heavy slate of annual capital spending, Cisco has still managed to generate at least $8 billion in annual free cash flow in each of the past five fiscal years. This has forced the company's balance sheet to swell with $42 billion in cash ($26 billion on a net cash basis).
The rising tide of cash has enabled Cisco to shrink its share count for eight straight years, from 7.2 billion in 2003 to a recent 5.5 billion. Yet investors won't really embrace Cisco until it can prove itself as a re-freshened growth story. Recent quarterly results provide a hopeful sign. Fiscal fourth-quarter results for the period ended July saw revenue of $11.2 billion, $300 million higher than the consensus forecast. Looking ahead, the company saw its backlog of business grow by at least 10% (from a year earlier) in Routing (up 17%), Services (13%), Collaboration (11%), TelePresence (35%), Data Center (35%) and Commercial (19%). Only Cisco's Switching (-5%) and government businesses (-7%) are lagging right now.
Overall, sales are unlikely to grow at a double-digit pace until the global economy is healthier. But with shares trading at around nine times projected fiscal (July) 2012 profits and less than six times earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (on an enterprise value basis), shares appear poised for better results in the decade ahead compared with the last decade.
3. AMD (NYSE: AMD)
Price on Sept. 7, 2001: $11.50
Recent price: $6.52
This chip maker showed real promise in the middle of the last decade. Its Opteron micro-processors were very popular with PC and server vendors, but its momentum faded as mighty Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) fought back.
I ran through AMD's business model in late July, (which you can read about here) and little has changed since then. Part of the company's turnaround plans are based on a successor to Opteron, known as "Bulldozer." Those chips just started shipping to customers this week, and we won't need to wait too long to get a sense of how much demand the chip will see. AMD is likely to discuss the chip's progress when quarterly results are released in October. This will also provide investors with the first communication from new CEO Rory Read, who was hired in late August from PC giant Lenovo. In my view, he's inheriting a business that is far healthier than many suspect, and I still see more than 50% upside in this stock.
Risks to consider: All of these companies are exposed to tech spending trends, and if tech budgets get sharply slashed in coming quarters, then growth forecasts for 2012 will have to be reduced.
Other blue chip stocks that trade at or below 2001 prices that still hold great long-term appeal include Alcoa (NYSE: AA) (55% lower), Ford Motor (NYSE: F) (40% lower) and Interpublic (NYSE: IPG) (65% lower). These companies have all gone through painful restructurings, but look to be in fighting shape these days. After a decade of under-performance, outperformance could be the theme for these stocks for the coming decade. I see all stocks mentioned here as having 50% upside -- or more.
Disclosure: Neither David Sterman nor StreetAuthority, LLC hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.