By David Sterman
Depending on your investment style, either growth stocks or value stocks likely hold greater appeal. But sometimes you don't have to choose. On rare occasion, a stock can represent the best of both worlds. These GARP (Growth at a Reasonable Price) stocks tend to offer downside support thanks to their low valuations, and solid upside thanks to their growth prospects.
With that in mind, I went looking for stocks that sport low P/E ratios yet are expected to post solid earnings growth in 2011. To narrow the list down to a manageable number, the companies must sport a market capitalization of at least $200 million. In the table below, you'll find 10 stocks that made the grade.
|Company Name (Ticker)||Recent Price||Market Cap.||2010 P/E||EPS Growth Next Year|
|Advance American (NYSE: AEA)||$3.82||$237M||4.3||+24%|
|Aspen Insurance (NYSE: AHL)||$28.22||$2.1B||6.1||+25%|
|Career Education (Nasdaq: CECO)||$20.02||$1.7B||9.6||+23%|
|Thompson Creek Metals
|Mercury Computer Systems
|ShengdaTech (Nasdaq: SDTH)||$4.47||$254M||10.1||+32%|
|China Fire & Security
|SmartHeat (Nasdaq: HEAT)||$6.38||$231M||11.1||+34%|
|Michael Baker (NYSE: BKR)||$33.71||$315M||14.2||+21%|
|Deer Consumer Products
Advance America offers cash advances to credit-constrained consumers, and often sees business spike when the economy is in a funk. The company's shares remain out of vogue, despite the fact that quarterly profit trends are quite robust -- second quarter operating income surged +37% from a year ago, when legal expenses are excluded.
The top-line growth, however, is not as impressive because many states are starting to crack down on the "payday loan" business. Advance America recently had to close 92 stores, half of them in Virginia, to comply with new laws. But the company still operates nearly 2,500 retail stores. The store closures, and expenses associated with that effort, are crimping per share profits this year, which will likely lag the year-ago take by about -20%.
Yet the remaining store base looks quite healthy. With a reduction in expected store-closure expenses next year, earnings per share is expected to climb back up +25% to around $0.88. As more low-income consumers find it difficult to obtain new credit cards, demand -- and profits -- may keep rising into 2012. Value investors should note that the stock trades for around five times 2010 projected profits and four times next year's earnings, while income investors may find Advance America's 6.5% dividend yield attractive.
Thompson Creek Metals
One of the charms of mining stocks is that you can value a company on the basis of its earnings strength or simply on the value of its untapped mineral reserves. On both counts, Thompson Creek looks quite attractive. The company is ramping up production at a rapid pace, leading to an earnings surge, and a recent acquisition has boosted the value of its holdings to around $16 a share on a net asset value (NAV) basis -- some +60% above the current share price.
Thompson Creek has historically focused on molybdenum, a metal that is used to bolster high-strength steel. A pair of molybdenum mines are just ramping up, setting the stage for a triple-digit jump in EPS this year, and another +40% gain in 2011 to $1.40. Shares trade for just seven times that forecast. A recent acquisition of a large gold and copper mine expected to come online in 2012 or 2013 should bolster growth prospects even further.
Well below its NAV and a very low P/E ratio. What's not to love?
It's hard to attract investor interest when you operate halfway around the world. China's ShengdaTech has the added burden of producing a fairly obscure industrial material: nano-precipitated calcium carbonate (NPCC). Obscure as it may be to most of us, NPCC is seeing rising demand in the construction of tires, plastics, inks and adhesives. The nano-sized particles help to smooth out the finish on these manufactured goods while also strengthening any material they adhere to. It's far cheaper than traditional solutions such as titanium oxide and silicon dioxide.
ShengdaTech has a proprietary production process that produces high yields at low prices. The company continues to add to capacity and often finds a buyer for that higher output as soon as it is available.
Thanks to capacity expansions, sales should rise around +25% both this year and next. Analysts think EPS could rise +30% next year to about $0.65. Of course, demand isn't limitless, and longer-term growth rates will likely moderate. Management insists that ShengdaTech is capable of robust long-term growth, as its R&D labs are trying to identify a range of new applications for its NPCC. Nevertheless, with shares trading for around seven times next year's profits, even a growth rate in the low to mid-teens would make these shares very attractive.
These stocks are cheap in large part due to investor apathy or ignorance. They toil outside the Wall Street spotlight, yet are developing solid profit growth prospects.
ShengdaTech may stay cheap for a while longer, at least until the broader universe of Chinese stocks starts to move back into favor. Advance America is learning to live with a slightly smaller retail footprint, but is getting a lot more profit out of its existing stores. Thompson Creek Metals is only now emerging as a key mineral producer.
Investors can feel comfortable owning any of these three undiscovered names, as long as they have the patience to wait for the stocks to be discovered.