Inside the Numbers: Undervalued Commodity Stocks

Commodities shape just about every aspect of our lives, from the cost of a tank of gas to the price of a gallon of milk. But instead of being subjected to the whims of volatile commodities, smart investors find a way to soften the blow. Let me explain…

During the summer of 2008, when crude oil prices were near $150 a barrel, drivers felt a sting in their wallets. But while prices were high, companies like ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) raked in record profits. This example doesn’t just apply to oil, either. Many other commodities traded near record highs during that time.

Take corn. Thanks to ethanol subsidies, the price of corn flour in Mexico nearly quadrupled in a matter of months in the summer of 2007. And while that country’s poor rioted over the cost of corn tortillas, companies like Archer Daniels Midland (NYSE: ADM) made mounds of cash.

During the subprime crisis in the United States, people began stripping abandoned homes of copper wiring, hoping to capitalize on high copper prices. And when metals prices were near their highs in 2008, stories began to pop up about some who even went as far as to steal manhole coverings to be melted down for their base value. This just didn’t occur in one or two places — it happened in cities around the world.

#-ad_banner-#I suppose theft is one way to go about profiting from commodities, but might I suggest something a little safer (and legal) for investors — simply buy commodity stocks, namely ones that will do well when prices are high. With many commodity prices well off their highs, investors have a chance to pick up some world-class stocks on the cheap. And because of the boom-or-bust nature of commodities, many of them will be in a prime position when the time comes and prices rebound.

Today’s Inside the Numbers focuses on finding these bargains.

Our StreetAuthority research team screened for stocks meeting the following criteria:

  • Energy, agriculture or metal stocks
  • Market cap greater than $500 million
  • PEG ratio below 1.0
  • Debt/Equity under 100%

Here’s what turned up:

Company Name (Ticker) Industry PEG Debt/Equity Est. Long Term Growth
ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) Oil/Gas 0.80 8.3% +14.4%
Transocean (NYSE: RIG) Oil & Gas Drilling 0.53 57.0% +17.0%
Archer-Daniels (NYSE: ADM) Agricultural Products 0.78 53.2% +12.5%
Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN) Oil/Gas 0.38 42.7% +51.0%
Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO) Oil & Gas Drilling 0.49 41.3% +20.5%
Weatherford Intl. (NYSE: WFT) Oil & Gas Equipment 0.62 68.6% +35.3%
Murphy Oil (NYSE: MUR) Oil/Gas 0.80 18.4% +15.0%
Noble Corp. (NYSE: NE) Oil & Gas Drilling 0.39 11.1% +19.3%
Cliffs Nat. Res. (NYSE: CLF) Steel 0.82 20.7% +15.3%
Bunge Ltd. (NYSE: BG) Agricultural Products 0.55 36.8% +21.0%
Ensco Intl. (NYSE: ESV) Oil & Gas Drilling 0.53 5.0% +19.7%
Pride Intl. (NYSE: PDE) Oil & Gas Drilling 0.68 28.0% +23.0%
Rowan Comp. (NYSE: RDC) Oil & Gas Drilling 0.74 27.4% +15.3%
Tidewater (NYSE: TDW) Oil & Gas Equipment 0.76 12.4% +12.0%

Last week’s Inside the Numbers identified stocks trading near their 52-week lows that are primed for a comeback. Not surprisingly, ExxonMobil makes another appearance here. The stock would appear to be priced slightly below earnings growth expectations (with a PEG of 0.80), but when we take the 2.4% yield into account, the stock is fairly priced. (P/E of 16.8 / Growth estimate of 14.4% + 2.4% yield). With that said, there’s not a more obvious “can’t miss” stock that will benefit from a spike in crude prices.

Which brings me to my next point… notice any similarities in the table? With a few exceptions, all of these stocks are involved in the oil business.

A few familiar names appear, such as Weatherford International (NYSE: WFT). The oil & gas equipment and services firm turned up when I examined the portfolio of legendary oilman T. Boone Pickens’ hedge fund, BP Capital. Analysts expect the company to grow earnings +35% in the next five years, yet the stock is valued at a -38% discount to its growth potential (a PEG of 0.62).

Transocean (NYSE: RIG), a deeply discounted offshore oil driller, is another Pickens holding worth looking at. Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO), Noble (NYSE: NE), Ensco International (NYSE: ESV) and Pride International (NYSE: PDE) are other offshore drillers that have rebounded after crude prices fell from record highs. But with crude at $80 a barrel (compared with its summer 2008 peak of $150) and a global recovery beginning to take hold, nearly all of these drillers could benefit from higher prices.

Diamond Offshore, in particular, is an interesting candidate for investors with an income bent. Where Transocean specializes in deepwater drilling of 10,000 feet or more, Diamond’s niche is in the mid-water drilling business. Also different from Transocean, Diamond has held back from building new rigs and instead focused on buying older rigs from cash-starved competitors. This strategy has insulated Diamond from the build-out glut in the industry and helped support its generous 8.0% dividend. Going forward, Diamond will have to invest more in updating its fleet, but should keep paying a reasonably high dividend to shareholders. (Its dividend payout ratio is 81%).