Single Digits, But Not Growth Midgets

By Stephen D. Simpson, CFA | October 07, 2010 AAA

In theory, the price of a stock should be irrelevant to its prospects. In practice, though, there are always investors looking for low-priced stocks that could significantly boost the returns in their portfolio. Although we strongly urge investors to avoid the penny stock casino, there are some single-digit stocks that could be worth a further look.

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Atmel (Nasdaq:ATML)
Investors had to wait quite a while for this long-struggling chip stock to get moving, but it has done quite well so far this year. While expectations may have gotten ahead of reality in the short term and there could be some inventory risks in the company's industrial and automotive business segments, there is a lot to like about this company. Not only does the company have a good microcontroller business, but the company's maXTouch product for touchscreens has done well with customers like HTC, Samsung and Motorola (NYSE:MOT). Touchscreens are here to stay, and that could vault Atmel back into the ranks of a growth semiconductor company.

SeaChange (Nasdaq:SEAC)
I have an innate bias against companies with overly-clever names, but SeaChange may be entitled to it. The convergence of video and internet is now a given, and SeaChange supplies valuable server and software products that help companies like Comcast (Nasdaq:CMCSA) and Disney (NYSE:DIS) offer on-demand content and targeted interactive advertising. Earnings performance has been a little erratic, but the potential is there and the company is still largely below institutional radar.

FSI International (Nasdaq:FSII)
Semiconductor equipment is a brutal business, but the stocks can do remarkably well if investors time it right. FSII is in the business of surface conditioning equipment, a key step in the process that eliminates surface contaminants that could reduce (or ruin) a chip's operating efficiency. Although FSII has already enjoyed a big rebound in the stock, the sector as a whole has yet to really run - suggesting more could be in store for risk-tolerant investors. Above that, the company's new ORION system could be a share-gainer for the company, and could provoke a bid from a larger player that either wants to integrate another step of the semi manufacturing process or secure its existing conditioning business.

Lattice Semiconductor (Nasdaq:LSCC)
When Actel (Nasdaq:ACTL) accepted a buyout bid, it brought Lattice back to my attention. Lattice is a chip company of similar size and likewise is focused on low-power programmable logic chips. Lattice boasts a clean balance sheet and even though the stock has more than doubled over the past year, the valuation is still reasonable on a relative basis. Chip stocks can be ridiculously volatile and cyclical. A sustained recovery in communications, automotive, industrial and medical customers would be a good foundation for this story.

Pier One (NYSE:PIR)
Just to prove that it is not all about tech these days, the revivification of Pier One should be noted. Left for dead, Pier One has regained its merchandising mojo. Same-store sales jumped 11% in the last quarter. While that was certainly helped by an easy comp, the fact remains that Pier One is growing while many retailers are struggling. Even after more than doubling, the stock is not expensive and analyst expectations are pretty modest. Pier One has always been a quirky store with on-again/off-again appeal, but if the company really has shored up its back-office and marketing issues - this retailer could still have room to run.

This Is Only The Beginning
Please remember that these are simply ideas to get you started on your way. No one paragraph can substitute for proper due diligence, and many of these ideas have above-average risk and volatility. By the same token, good ideas can be hard to find and a few well-chosen single digit stocks can certainly liven up a portfolio. (For more, see 4 Cheap, High Quality Stocks.)

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