As investors await the outcome of various global crises -- from Athens to Washington -- they're going to great lengths to avoid risk. Many are shunning any new stock purchases until confidence can be restored. But some investors aren't waiting for the "all clear" to sound, snapping up great companies while they're awfully cheap. Lately, I've been highlighting pockets of deep value in the United States, but virtually the entire planet is on sale at the moment. Leading blue chips in virtually every stock market are now selling at prices well below levels seen this past spring. With the exception of the market rout of 2008/2009, many of these blue chips haven't been this cheap in several decades.
If you're looking to start loading up on bargains now, or at least want to be ready to move quickly when the time is right, then I've compiled a list of 20 international blue chips that are certifiably cheap. How cheap? Every stock on this list has a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio below 8, based on projected 2012 profits. To add an extra level of safety, I've excluded companies that operate in the banking sector. It's simply too soon to wade into this troubled sector until the European debt crisis is resolved. I've also culled China-based American depositary receipts (ADRs) from the list. Until that country gets serious about rigorous oversight of accounting practices, investors are taking on too much risk with these stocks.
So here's what I've found...
Talk about geographic diversity. These blue chips are domiciled across Europe, as well as in Brazil, Japan, South Korea, Israel and Russia. Sure, business conditions are tough in many of these regions, but all of these companies remain solidly profitable and are now just too cheap to be ignored.
Switzerland-based Roche Holdings (Nasdaq: RHHBY) also highlights just how cheap stocks are. The purveyor of drugs and diagnostics typically earns around $10 a share, yet is valued at just $40. Similarly, natural-resource firms Anglo American (Nasdaq: AAUKY), Vale (Nasdaq: VALE), and Rio Tinto (NYSE: RIO) trade for just three to five times projected earnings. These valuations reflect an expectation that a slower economy will hamper commodity prices. That may be the case, but the long-term outlook for these asset-rich firms remains quite bright.
Up until now, all of the stocks I've mention merit your attention. But these two stocks in particular have caught my eye for international bargain hunters...
1. Teva Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: TEVA)
The drug industry remains in transition. Top-selling drugs representing many billions in annual sales are losing their patent protection and are becoming available as generic drugs. ["2 Best Stocks for this $33 Billion Trend."]
A range of firms should benefit from the ongoing trend, including Israel's Teva, the largest provider of generic drugs in the world. One of out every five generic drugs in the United States is sold by Teva, making it 50% larger than its nearest competitor, Mylan Labs (NYSE: MYL). Teva is also the market leader in Europe.
Despite that bright outlook for generic drugs, Teva's shares have taken a big hit from fears that Copaxone, the company's multiple sclerosis drug, will lose its own patent protection in 2012 if the company loses a current legal challenge. (Otherwise, Copaxone goes generic in 2014). In fact, the stock has fallen from $57 back in February to a recent $36, and now trades near a five-year low.
To offset the expected eventual loss from Copaxone's patents, Teva has three arrows in its quiver. First, a coming wave of fresh generic opportunities should pump up results beginning in the quarter that just began. Second, Teva has recently raised prices on a number of its key generic drugs that have been off-patent for a number of years. Third, Teva just acquired Cephalon, which has a portfolio of specialty, branded medicines, including the narcolepsy drug Provigil ($1.2 billion in 2010 sales). Taken together, these moves should boost EPS at a double-digit clip in 2011 and 2012.
Analysts at Needham predict a rebound back to the 52-week high of $57, or more than 50% above current levels -- once the company can prove its ability to deliver profit growth -- even without Copaxone. Their target P/E multiple of 10 represents a 25% discount to the company's long-term growth target of 13.1% through 2015, which they believe may be on the short side because of Teva's "strong track record of consistent financial performance, and the depth and breadth of the company's product portfolio and geographic base of its business."
2. Arcelor Mittal (NYSE: MT)
This global steel maker has slumped badly on fears that a global economic slowdown will crimp demand. Shares have fallen from nearly $50 in early 2010 to a recent $18. In mid-August, I noted that the company's $32 billion market value was at a steep discount to the company's $48 billion in tangible book value.
Little did I know shares could even further below book value, as the whole company is now valued at just $28 billion. As I noted back then, a clear case can be made that this stock can work its way back into the upper $30s once investors see that steel demand is faring OK in this tepid economy. That represents a double from the current price.
Risks to Consider: These stocks already anticipate a downturn in results, thanks to their dowdy P/E ratios, but any slump that is deeper than currently forecasted could push these already-cheap shares even lower.
Action to Take --> Stock markets around the world have been under pressure, taking these great companies down in sympathy. It's unclear if any sort of rebound is imminent, but it is quite clear that investors with a multi-year time horizon stand to capture major gains from these high-quality beaten down stocks.