The stock market as measured by the S&P 500 Index currently trades at about 26 times earnings, one of the highest multiples since the early 2000s. Investors who want to dip their toes into value bets can find lower priced stocks a plenty, with their own unique risks and opportunities.
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Below, three Fools lay out the case for AutoZone (NYSE: AZO), Cameco Corp (NYSE: CCJ), and Hain Celestial Group Inc (NASDAQ: HAIN) as value stocks in a market that trade at lofty prices.
Is this the bottom for auto supply stores?
Jordan Wathen (AutoZone): For a long time it seemed as though auto parts were one of the few products that would never lose share to online retailers. Investors also accepted auto retailers' post-recession same-store-sales growth as a permanent fixture. Both could be changing.
In its most recent quarterly report, AutoZone reported that same store sales shrank 0.8% year over year. It blamed sluggish sales on a number of factors, ranging from weather to delayed tax refunds. In truth, no one seems to have a good understanding of why one of the last few bright spots in the brick-and-mortar retail business went dark.
Amazon is ramping up its focus on auto parts, but it seems unlikely that Amazon has already impacted traditional auto parts retail in a big way. A changing mix of automobiles may be to blame. Newer models are more reliable. The older cars that drove post-2008 sales growth are increasingly being replaced, helped by steep automaker incentives and easy credit availability for new and gently used cars. But today's newer cars will ultimately age and require more maintenance once again.
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If it turns out that recent declines in sales are merely temporary, a function of a shifting mix of cars on American roads and weather patterns, auto retailer stocks could prove cheap. AutoZone trades at about 14 times trailing twelve-month free cash flow. For a dying retailer, it's a high multiple. For a temporarily depressed retailer with single-digit growth opportunities over the long haul, it's a very compelling valuation. It's a bet that truly defines audacious wagers.
Go big and go nuclear
Daniel Miller (Cameo Corp): If you're an audacious investor willing to take on intriguing investments with a fair amount of risk, Cameco Corp (NYSE: CCJ) is right up your alley. Cameco is one of the world's largest uranium producers with intentions to ramp up its production over the next few years as the world works through its current supply glut. Essentially, if the world continues to build nuclear power plants, it'll be happy times for Cameco investors -- but public sentiment toward nuclear power took a hit after Fukushima, making this a riskier play.
Uranium prices have fallen over the past few years due to the supply glut from delayed Japanese reactor restarts, but that likely won't remain a long-term hindrance. According to the World Nuclear Association, more than 60 reactors were under construction at the end of 2016. In fact, China has ambitious plans to boost its nuclear power capacity more than 70% by 2020 and India plans a similar near 30% expansion by 2019.
"Uranium will be in really high demand because so many nuclear reactors are being planned in Asia and all around the world," Willem Middelkoop, the founder of Netherlands-based Commodity Discovery Fund, said. "We expect real stress in the uranium market after 2020. We could see uranium prices of $100 and higher."
For context, uranium prices have been around $20 recently, so the upside is drastic if the supply glut turns into a supply crunch. Cameco also offers a dividend yield of 3.2%, trades at a modest 18x price-to-earnings ratio which is cheaper than the S&P 500's average of 25, and while there is plenty of risk in this nuclear play, some audacious investors could be long-term winners with Cameco Corp.
Cash (flow) is king
Jason Hall (Hain Celestial Group Inc): After more than one year between financial filings, healthy and organic packaged foods and poultry purveyor (try saying that three times fast) Hain Celestial finally filed its financials (whew!) with the SEC in late June.
And while the results weren't exactly pretty, they weren't terrible, either, and it looks like management has a solid plan in place to address a lot of things it can leverage, including driving out operating costs, and better-utilizing scale to improve cash flows. Most importantly, management intends to deploy a significant amount of those cost-savings right back into growing brand equity and market share.
But what's the argument for Hain as a value stock? Trading for more than 32 times 2017 adjusted earnings guidance, Hain isn't exactly cheap.
But there is an argument that from a cash flows basis, Hain could be a great value. Over the past 12 months, Hain generated almost $160 million in free cash flows, after spending $20 million on the accounting review which delayed its earnings filings. The stock trades for 25 times free cash flow before that non-recurring expense, and 22 times free cash flow if we adjust it out. That's far more reasonable.
If we get audacious and look at 2018, management is aiming for $205 million in free cash flows and shares trade for less than 20 times that number today. If Hain's management can rediscover the mojo, on a cash-flows basis, today's price could turn out to be quite cheap in a few years' time.
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Daniel Miller has no position in any stocks mentioned. Jason Hall owns shares of Amazon and Hain Celestial. Jordan Wathen has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Hain Celestial. The Motley Fool recommends AutoZone. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.