Value investors tend to favor specific gauges to find bargains. Some like to seek out stocks trading below tangible book value, while others seek out stocks that sport low price-to-earnings (P/E) multiples or impressive free cash flow characteristics.
But why not focus on all three gauges?
I ran a screen to find stocks that press all the buttons, targeting only companies with a market value above $500 million and 2014 P/E multiples below 12. To preserve a nice margin of error for downside protection, I narrowed the list to stocks trading for less than 95% of tangible book value.
Here's what I found.
Of course, these numbers are just a starting point, and the seemingly least expensive stocks aren't always the top bargain. Case in point: Century Aluminum (Nasdaq: CENX), which holds a trove of undervalued assets parked on its balance sheet but is struggling to generate profits in an era of depressed aluminum prices.
Yet some of these stocks fall into the "no-brainer" category.
You'll note that insurers such as Protective Life (NYSE: PL), MetLife (NYSE: MET), Aspen Insurance Holdings (NYSE: AHL) and others make the cut here. These insurers are trading at a sharp discount to tangible book value because they are not seen as timely investments in the current low interest-rate environment. If you've got a multi-year time frame, then insurance stocks are some of the best bargains in the market right now.
Atlas Air: Performing well in a bleak environment
Digging more deeply into these stocks, it's hard not to be impressed by air freight carrier Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings (Nasdaq: AAWW). Global trade flows have been weak since 2008, especially as European economies continue to struggle. That's had a negative impact on air freight volumes and air freight pricing. Still, Atlas has managed to generate an average of $200 million in annual free cash flow during the past four years.
Then again, the weak global economy is impeding Atlas' pricing power. Even as revenues are expected to rise more than 10% this year (to around $1.85 billion) thanks to market share gains, per-share profits are stuck in the $5 range. That's the result of a margin squeeze due to a lack of pricing power. Perhaps that flat profit outlook explains why shares have drifted lower during the past few years.
First Bancorp: waiting on the dividend
Thanks to a set of restrictions associated with the U.S. bank bailout program, many banks have been compelled to shore up their balance sheets. In many cases, that meant eliminating their dividends.
Puerto Rico-based First Bancorp (NYSE: FBP) would have done so anyway. The lender -- which, in the middle of the past decade, used to pay a $4 annual dividend, thanks to annual pretax income that typically hovered around the $100 million mark -- took a big hit from a weakening Puerto Rican economy.
Between 2009 and 2011, First Bancorp generated a hefty pretax loss as sour loans were written down, and a rebound to $36 million in pretax income in 2012 was still subpar. Yet this bank now appears to be on the mend, earning roughly 10 cents a share per quarter, and annualized pretax income is back up to the $70 million range (based on the past two quarters) and continues to climb.
Although this bank's share count is far higher than a half-decade ago thanks to hefty issuances of preferred stock, First Bancorp now looks poised to restart the dividend in coming quarters. As an added kicker, shares trade for less than 5 times projected 2014 profits and less than 90% of tangible book value. These are the kinds of measures you want to see in a deep-value stock.
Risks to Consider: Low valuations provide only a general, non-specific floor for a stock, meaning the price-to-book ratio or P/E ratio can drop even lower.
Action to Take --> The second quarter has gotten off to a rough start, and investors are increasingly seeking out stocks that appear to hold solid downside protection with upside catalysts. These stocks, which prove three types of support, should be on your research list.