Ever since he took the reins of Citigroup (NYSE: C) in mid-October, Chairman Michael O'Neill has been making the rounds with the company's key stakeholders. And as he's found, the global banking giant still has many detractors in the investment community. In fact, even the numbers say so. Citigroup is valued at $103 billion, but its balance sheet says the company is really worth $155 billion.
So O'Neill has done what the disciples of investment gurus Benjamin Graham & David Dodd would do: he's bought company stock. In recent days, Citigroup's chairman has acquired more than $1 million in company stock — with his own money.
Graham & Dodd developed a powerful — yet simple — investing concept: We have no way of really knowing what a company's future sales and profit prospects will really look like. Instead, we only know what a company already possesses. By tallying up the assets on a balance sheet and then deducting the liabilities, we know what a company would be worth if it were liquidated tomorrow. And any stock the market values at a price that's lower than the net assets on the balance sheet is a clear and certifiable bargain.
Citigroup's O'Neill is actually part of a recent mini-trend. An unusually large number of insider purchases have been made at companies trading below book value. Graham & Dodd would be proud. Here are five "below book" stocks with recent clusters of insider buying.
|1. CYS Investments|
|CYS Investments (NYSE: CYS) director Jeffrey Hughes recently acquired roughly $125,000 of company stock at an average price of $12.65 per share. CYS, which invests in mortgage bonds, actually should be worth around $14.50 a share, when measured by tangible book value. Hughes is also likely enamored with this firm's dividend yield, which now exceeds an amazing 14%.
I also recently noted that CYS' board has authorized a $250 million stock buyback, which is always a wise move when shares trade below book.
|2. Western Asset Mortgage Capital|
| Like CYS, Western Asset Mortgage Capital (NYSE: WMC) trades mortgage-backed securities and trades at around 95% of tangible book value. And as is the case with CYS, it also sports an eye-popping 17% dividend yield.
Director James Hirschmann has taken advantage of these value metrics, acquiring roughly $300,000 in stock in recent weeks.
|3. Annaly Capital Management|
|Annaly Capital Management (NYSE: NLY) operates in the very same industry as CYS and Western Asset Mortgage. And it too sports an impressive 13.6% dividend yield and trades at just 84% of tangible book value. In this instance, company Director Kevin Keyes bought $1.4 million of stock in mid-November.
Why do these firms sport such high-yields? Because they are unlikely to maintain very rich dividend payments when the pricing dynamics in the mortgage-bond industry begins to change. I focused on this industry back in March, when I profiled Two Harbors (NYSE: TWO) and concluded that these "high-yield stocks that are actually undervalued, despite the likelihood of a dividend cut." The fact that these stocks trade below tangible book value simply underscores that point. For that matter, Two Harbors also trades below book, sports a double-digit yield and has seen recent insider buying as well.
|4. Chesapeake Energy|
|Did Director Brad Martin buy roughly $700,000 of this energy driller because shares trade at just 74% of book value? Or did he buy shares because they have failed to rise even as Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) keeps to its pledge of major asset sales?
Perhaps he's been a buyer because natural gas prices are firming, which should improve Chesapeake's profit picture in coming years. We'll never know his reasons, but with shares so far below the $23.77 book value, he's not taking on a lot of risk.
|5. Tuesday Morning|
|Director Steven Becker has acquired more than $1 million worth of this retailer stock in the past month. Tuesday Morning (Nasdaq: TUES) acquires "close-out" merchandise from wholesalers and distributors, and lures customers in with the promise of low prices.
The insider-buying comes after an impressive rally for the stock, which has brought it almost back to book value. Insiders tend to reflexively buy stock after it has fallen. In this instance, Becker qualifies as an insider as his firm, Becker Drapkin, owns about 8% of company stock. The investment firm is known for its activist stances, so the recent insider-buying activity may be a prelude to pressure tactics to get Tuesday Morning to take stapes to unlock shareholder value.
Risks to Consider: Insiders are notoriously bad market times, so don't look at these buys for signs of a hidden catalyst that will soon emerge. Moreover, "below book" stocks can stay that way for an extended period, as surely been the case with Citigroup.
Action to Take –> In any investment, you want to find multiple reasons to own a stock. Stocks trading at a discount to book is one angle, while strong insider support is another. The fact that these stocks have both of these factors in place bodes well for eventual upside.
– David Sterman
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