Loews, Graham Holdings and two other share purchases sell below book value

Of course, the stock market is expensive. But some stocks still sell for less than their book value (essentially the equity of companies).

Why should you care? Because, despite skeptics who say book value is an outdated measure, buying stocks below book value can be a very profitable strategy.

Starting in 1998, I dedicated 20 columns to stocks that sell below the book. The 12-month average total return of my selections was 17.1%, well above the 11.8% figure of the Standard & Poor’s 500, an index that seemed almost unbeatable in recent years. Fourteen of my 20 columns showed profit, and 13 beat the index.

Keep in mind that the results in my column are hypothetical: they do not reflect actual transactions, transaction costs, or taxes. These results should not be confused with the performance of the portfolios I manage for clients. In addition, past performance does not predict future results.

Last year, my below book picks returned 51.1%, beating the S&P, which posted a 34.2% gain. Three of my four picks beat the index, with the largest gain (88%) coming from G-III Apparel Group Ltd. (GIII). The worst performing was Photronics

(PLAB), which gained 29%.

And now, how about a few new candidates?

Loews (L), based in New York, is the headquarters of the Tisch family, which has controlled the company since its inception in 1946. It owns 89% of CNA Financial

and 53% of Diamond Offshore Drilling (DOFSQ). It owns the Loews hotel chain and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners.

In the past, Loews owned Lorillard Tobacco Co., Bulova Watch Co., the Loews movie theater chain, and part of the CBS broadcast. Obviously, the Tische are willing to buy and sell assets, but they tend to hold their holdings for a substantial number of years.

The stock has lagged behind, having returned just 54% over the past decade (including dividends), while the S&P 500 has returned 358%. But in an expensive market, this stock is very cheap, logging in at 0.8 times book value, nine times earnings, and 1.1 times earnings.

Based in Stamford, Connecticut, Dorian GPL SA. (LPG) transports liquefied petroleum gas internationally thanks to a fleet of 22 specialized tankers. Liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG, is different from liquefied natural gas or LNG. The first is propane or butane; the latter is methane. But I believe the economy of both will be similar and the United States will be a major exporter of both.

Dorian’s earnings history includes eight years; it was profitable in five. Profitability seems to be improving and the stock looks very cheap to me at 0.55 times book value and seven times earnings.

I bring back Graham Holdings Co

from last year’s list. It brought in 41%, but I think there is room for further gains.

It is the remnant of the old Washington Post empire. The post itself has been sold to Jeff Bezos (director of Amazon.com), and the main remaining asset is the Kaplan chain, which offers test prep and job training. It also has television channels, home care and palliative care centers.

Over the past ten years, Graham has increased his book value by 7% per year and growth has accelerated in recent times. Still, the stock only sells for 0.77 times book value and six times earnings – extremely cheap multiples in any market, and especially this one.

Finally, and speculatively, I recommend Argonaut Gold (ARNGF), which is a “penny stock”, meaning that it sells for less than $ 5 per share. Argonaut is barely selling a mustache below book value and less than six times the profit. Its 14-year earnings history includes seven annual wins and seven losses.

A Canadian company headquartered in Reno, Nevada, Argonaut mines gold primarily in Mexico and Nevada. One of the holders is Donald Smith, an investment manager known for buying shares below book value.

The price of gold strengthened from a low of around $ 1,200 an ounce in September 2018 to a high of around $ 2,000 in August 2020. Since then, its trend has been choppy with a downward bias; the price at the time of this writing is $ 1,819 per ounce. With gold at this price, Argonaut has posted a profit for four consecutive quarters.

With a whiff of inflation in the air and with central banks aggressively printing money, I think the current climate bodes well for gold and gold-related investments.

Disclosure: I have no position on the stocks discussed this week, personally or for clients.

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