Value Is En Vogue Again

By James Brumley | September 21, 2009 AAA

I'll confess it - though I'm mostly a value investor, I've been intrigued by some of the more compelling growth stocks all those green shoots have been pushing to the head of the class since March. With the first real test of the bull market upon us though, I'm getting back to my value roots and starting to look for the next batch of value ideas worth transplanting into growth-heavy portfolios.

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The irony is that these value names may have more collective growth potential than growth stocks do. In any case, here are some of the better value stocks you may have put on the backburner over the last six months, but might want to dust off soon.

1. Humana Inc. (NYSE:HUM)
It seems as if health care plan providers are able to breathe a new sigh of relief on a daily basis. The latest worry taken off the table was this week's introduction of a healthcare reform bill that not only won't kill the health insurers, but may actually help them.

The so-called 'Baucus Plan' effectively forces all citizens to purchase some kind of health insurance, but the plan also provides a co-op type of option as a low-cost alternative for those that can't afford conventional insurance. The co-op is not expected to be a fiscal threat to insurers though.

In fact, the plan may actually be a bit of a boost for Humana, not to mention UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE:UNH) and Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET), both of which could be interchangeable with Humana as one of my value picks. See, all three offer what are called high deductible, health plans (or HDHPs), which may become the minimum insurance plan standard if the current bill passes.

That's not a reason alone to view Humana or its peers as a value play - it simply removes a major impediment. Humana tops my value list just because it has single-digit price multiples on a trailing and forward-looking basis.

2. Tidewater Inc. (NYSE:TDW)
Tidewater is something of an indirect economic recovery play. Its core business is oil shipping, and as long as even a tepid recovery continues to grow roots, the company should be able to move forward.

Despite a somewhat anemic second calendar quarter for this year (Q1 of the fiscal quarter) in terms of revenue, Tidewater has maintained 20% or higher margins over the last twelve months. Between strong margins and consistent top lines in good and bad environments, a P/E of 6.4 seems more than fair.

3. Lockheed-Martin Corp. (NYSE:LMT)
As with the Humana pick, it wouldn't be hard to equally justify choosing competitors Raytheon Inc. (NYSE:RTN) or L-3 Communications Inc. (NYSE:LLL) instead of Lockheed-Martin. However, of the three, Lockheed's stock appears to have run away the least so far. It is as much of a defense/sector call as it is a stock pick though, rooted in a bigger-picture idea.

The U.S. military recently awarded L-3 a $500 million contract, and then followed that up with what could be a contract worth up to $250 million. Raytheon picked up some new military business as well. And all three companies are apt to benefit from the U.S. government's recent decision to overhaul its missile defense program in the Middle East.

The pace and size of contracts is something we haven't seen in months; it could be a sign that the military spending spigots are on.

However, the Navy's recent request of Lockheed to accelerate delivery of its F-35 fighter pushes this particular stock to the forefront. If whispers that F-18s (built by Boeing) are being rapidly depleted are true, or that Boeing is desperate enough to start discounting them, then LMT isn't just a cheap stock, but a cheap stock of a company that could put up better-than-expected numbers over the next three to five years.

4. Malaysia Fund Inc. (NYSE:MAY)
Though still a value play, the Malaysia Fund is a value idea in a different vein. The closed-end fund is undervalued relative to its NAV. The most recent net asset value is listed at $8.55 per share, while the actual fund is trading at $7.33 - a 14% discount.

That's not the only reason an investor would want a fund of any ilk. You buy funds based on management's performance and the underlying opportunity. It just so happens that with the FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index is up 38% year to date, telling us that this emerging market is indeed a strong performer even if it's a tad off the beaten path. (For more, check out The Value Investor's Handbook.)

The Bottom Line
While growth stocks are an intriguing prospect, especially now, value plays are also out there to be had. And these four are definitely worth a second look.

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