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The Rebound’s Stealth Beneficiary…. It’s So Obvious, It’s Obscured

|Includes: Bowne & Co., Inc. (BNE), INWK, LABL, SGK

There’s not one thing wrong with owning an ‘obvious’ stock….. like an Apple (AAPL) or a Procter & Gamble (PG). Those companies sell a wanted/needed product or service, and can bear fruit for investors.

At the same time though, the more obvious a stock is, the greater the odds are that there’s no distinct opportunity with it - too many eyes are already following it to let you be the only to figure out it’s an undiscovered gem. In fact, that’s the old ‘efficient market’ argument….  the notion that you can’t know something about a company that isn’t already known by someone else.

We see both sides of the argument, and we’ll add another one - the more known the company is (and the more often it’s discussed), the more efficient the market is with spreading that information. Off-the-radar equities, being what they are, tend to operate in a much less efficient market, and therefore offer real opportunities to investors doing the work to find them.

That’s one of the reasons why the small and micro cap markets are so appealing…. very few others are competing for these stocks.

Though it helps, a stock doesn’t necessarily have to be small to be off the radar. It just has to be uninteresting, or obscure for the market to be inefficient enough to allow true-value seekers to tap opportunities.

With that as a backdrop, we’ve identified a group that practically nobody deliberately seeks out, but a group that is always needed. Better still, a continued economic recovery may boost revenue for this industry far more than it could for sexier arenas like computer hardware or capital markets.

That group? Commercial printing.

Think about it. It’s still everywhere….. mail, in-store-displays, grocery bags, label, boxes, documents, and more. Though the need for all these things tapered off with the recession, the need is growing again as the economy expands.

The thing is, nobody’s really looking at these stocks. They should be though, and will be if they keep turning in results like they did last quarter.

Bowne & Co, Inc. (BNE), for instance, increased quarterly revenue by 8%, and raised gross profits by 36% improvement in gross profit. The per-share loss was whittled down to $0.05 from $0.39. Innerworkings (INWK) raised its Q4 revenue by 17%, and boosted earnings per share to $0.05, well above the $0.01 per share for the same quarter a year ago. Multi-Color Corp. (LABL) improved per-share operating earnings from 14 cents to 26 cents on what were essentially flat sales.

Though there were certainly some printers that continued to lose ground, the three above weren’t and aren’t outright exceptions. Businesses are starting to spend again, and the oddball service providers like this - for stuff that’s easier to outsource than take care of in-house - are the immediate beneficiaries.

As we’ve been doing quite a bit of lately, here’s a fundamental snapshot of all the commercial printing companies. For a more detailed view, click here.

Just FYI, the P/E ratios are positive in some cases despite a net per-share loss, as the P/Es are calculated on an operating earnings basis. One-time charges pulled some of these companies into the red over the last twelve months, though one-time charges generally don’t affect a P/E measure…. just the bottom line.

Either way, the forward-looking P/E ratios should be your focus. While some are aggressive to the point of feeling implausible, others can justify their lofty expectations. Schawk Inc. (SGK), as an example, is not only profitable again, but more than doubled EPS estimates for its last two quarters. Could analysts still be underestimating the company? Maybe.

While a little more due diligence is merited on your end before taking the plunge on any of these stocks, the bigger trend among commercial printers is becoming clear. And by the way…. if you think the smaller names look more attractive than the bigger ones, you’re not wrong.

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Disclosure: No positions