The one good thing about market sell offs is that the share price of most companies, regardless of quality, declines. Such share price declines should really excite the opportunistic value seeking investor. Market history has shown time and time again how the best returns usually follow a market decline. Look no further than 2009 for recent evidence of such history. Europe's financial troubles have brought fear and uncertainty to the markets again. It's still unknown what the market will do next week or next month.
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Don't Time Markets ...
Trying to time markets is a futile exercise that usually ends up causing more harm than good. Instead, investors should focus their attention on the individual businesses in order to determine whether or not the underlying business is worth more than the current stock price. Such an approach to investing squarely puts the investors attention on the actual business versus the emotions of Mr. Market. Looking at shares of fertilizer company Mosaic (NYSE:MOS) today, the price is starting to look right again. Despite a strengthening in the price of fertilizer, shares have been hit by the broad market sell off. Investors looking out over a two to three year horizon may wish to look more closely now.
... Price Stocks
At $44 a share, Mosaic has a market cap of $19 billion. The company has one of the best balance sheets in the industry. Among the major fertilizer companies, only CF Industries (NYSE:CF) has a debt-free balance sheet. But CF's recent acquisition of rival Terra Industries (NYSE:TRA) for $4.7 billion will affect the company's pristine balance sheet, if only for a limited time.
Mosaic's focus on primary focus on phosphate and potash offers a stronger future outlook. While all three main fertilizers - nitrogen, phosphate and potash - are all well below their highs, potash commands higher gross margins. In the fiscal third quarter, phosphate sales were $1 billion against gross margin of $114 million. Potash sales were $730 million against gross margin of $352 million, over 50% margins. Going forward, Mosaic plans to invest billions in future potash capacity which should drive down production costs. So while potash prices are low relative to recent years, should prices remain where they are today, Mosaic should still enjoy improved profitability.
A Fertile Future
At the current share price, Mosaic sports a P/E of over 30. This looks incredibly expensive to the value investor until he realizes that this multiple is based on depressed earnings. Mosaic earned over $4 per share in 2008 and 2009. It may be 2011 or 2012 before Mosaic can achieve that level of profitability again, but that implies a forward earnings multiple of under 12-times earnings based on today's price. That makes the company one of the more attractive plays in the industry.
Investors wanting a broader exposure can find Mosaic as part of the Market Vectors Agribusiness ETF (NYSE:MOO) along with other major agricultural plays like Monsanto (NYSE:MON) and Deere (NYSE:DE). As a stand alone investment, however, shares in Mosaic look poised for a fertile future.
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