4 Inexpensive Growth Stocks That Can’t be Ignored

A couple of weeks ago I talked about finding bargains among blue-chip stocks, pointing out how all of the stocks I mentioned had reached bargain-basement levels in terms of their price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios. And while I’m sticking to my guns and affirming that — for those three stocks — a low valuation is just too attractive to pass up, it’s not like a stock has to be dirt cheap to be attractive.

Growth matters too.

To that end, here are four GAARP (growth at a reasonable price) picks that look equally ripe, even if for different reasons.

1. Gildan Activewear Inc. (NYSE: GIL)
Gildan, a manufacturer of workout and athletic clothing, is the beneficiary of a subtle mega-trend — the explosive growth in the health and fitness wear arena, which has made Lululemon Athletica (Nasdaq: LULU) a household name (not to mention a star-performer on Wall Street).

Montreal-based Gildan tripled sales during the past three years. How? Simply put, as a society we’re finally getting back into better shape, and we need workout clothes to do it in.

The company hasn’t developed the same brand-recognition as Lululemon, but there’s still a reason earnings are expected to grow at an annualized 23% a year for the next five years. That makes the frothy P/E of about 25 much easier to swallow. And considering the company has topped estimates in eight of the past 12 quarters, future growth may be even stronger than anticipated.

2. Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group (NYSE: DTG)
At a trailing P/E of about 16, car rental company Dollar Thrifty Automotive looks as if it’s at the cheaper end of the growth stock valuation scale, and perhaps even the upper end of the value scale. With last year’s 35% income growth rate, however, and the 38% growth rate expected during the coming five years (the company just posted record first-quarter earnings of $1.35 per share), the P/E ratio becomes much less important — even if it was much higher. The company is growing earnings like crazy, period.

3. EQT Corp. (NYSE: EQT)
As a natural gas distributor, the ease with which EQT Corp.’s shares have tumbled isn’t tough to understand. Natural gas prices have been driven to near-record lows, and margins for gas companies continue to get crimped. There’s just one problem with that mental framework though — it hasn’t actually killed EQT, at least not to the extent many have assumed. Yes, the company fell well short of last quarter’s expected profit of $0.61 per share, rolling in at $0.50 instead. But when you take a step back and look at the bigger earnings trend, dirt-cheap natural gas hasn’t severely impacted this distributor’s bottom line. Pessimists just overshot with the stock’s price.

In any case, the trailing P/E of about 24 seems a tad on the insane side for a natural gas middleman. With gas prices starting to level off, though (giving the entire industry some much needed certainty), the forecasted 44% jump in earnings next year and an expected average annual growth pace of 25% for the coming five years could make the high stock price more than worth it.

4. F5 Networks, Inc. (Nasdaq: FFIV)
Though it took a few years to develop the momentum, web-service software company F5 Networks has finally hit a critical mass now that there’s too much information to handle… now that so many consumers essentially have constant web-connectivity through smartphones and tablets. F5 makes it possible for companies to handle those huge data burdens being placed on networks.

Revenue jumped from $653 million in 2009 to $1.1 billion in 2011 — nearly doubling in just two years — with forecasters saying it’s going to keep growing at around 50% for the next three to five years. Considering F5 is already posting those kinds of improvements, it’s not a stretch to expect more of the same, if not even greater growth as smartphones continue to proliferate.

Newcomers will certainly be paying a premium for that growth, however. Shares are currently trading at about 39 times trailing earnings. Yet, that growth rate — if it keeps up — could easily justify that frothy valuation.

Risks to consider: While all four stocks are well-grounded players in their respective arenas, the market seems to be in a perpetual “growth versus value” mental tug-of-war. If growth stocks (which are obviously more aggressive) fall out of favor, then these stocks could remain flat.

Action to Take–> Any of these stocks would be a fine addition to a struggling portfolio, at least for patient investors. Of the four, Gildan Activewear may be quietly packing the most punch. Other than a small recession-related bump from 2009 and knowingly taking a one-time hit to earnings in the previous quarter (when it booked a $0.38 per share loss), the company has reliably grown its bottom line since 2007. Given the growth trend, shares could justify hitting 2011’s peak around $37 again within a year, which would be about 40% higher than its current price.

A close second is equally-off-the-beaten-path Dollar Thrifty Group. The auto-rental outfit has posted a string of impressive sales and income growth during the past 12 months on improving travel demand as well as firm demand for used cars. Those are two trends that tend to stay in motion for a while once established. If its 38% earnings growth rate continues, then the stock could also easily gain about that much within a year.