It's not easy being Green: Michael Green's a stickler for value, even in an overheated market.
Green wasn't so lucky, though. No sooner had October 29 knocked a full 7% off the market, when investors rushed in and pushed the Dow Jones Industrial Average back up into the high 7000s. The zigzagging market made Green's job of finding little-known stocks that have eluded the investment community, or even those that have temporarily fallen out of favor, all the more difficult. "In past years, with any stock market correction, you had time to search through the rubble and find names," says Green, chief investment officer and owner of EverGreen Capital Management in Omaha, Nebraska.
It's not easy to make Green's cut. He first narrows the field by concentrating on just large and mid-cap stocks because they tend to be less volatile and a bit more dependable than shares of smaller companies. Green then limits his sights to companies selling at a minimum discount of at least 20% of their industry's average price-to-earnings ratio. So, if the average company in heavy industry sells at 15 times projected earnings, then he's on the prowl for stocks that fetch 12 times that same figure. On top of that, Green says he's also looking for companies with a low price to book value, preferably 20%-25% below their industry's average.
The money manager then looks at earnings prospects. He favors companies that are projected to grow earnings at a 10% or greater clip during the next few years. Think that's tough? There are still another couple of hurdles to clear. He's partial to corporations that stick to core businesses while generating a lot of cash flow. And, finally, Green considers investing in a company if it pays dividends. "I'm most attracted to a company that not only pays a dividend but increases its payout over time," he says. "After all, a dividend is great for a stock's stability in volatile times."
We asked the ever-picky Green for attractive three- to five-year holdings. He led off with First Union Corp. (NYSE: FTU), a super-regional bank that's recently made headlines with acquisitions of the brokerage firms Wheat First Butcher Singer and Corestates. Green likes the fact that First Union now derives a larger portion of its sales from fee-based activity such as investment banking and asset management. He says those two businesses provide great insulation for banks given the fact that interest rate fluctuations can often wreak havoc on financial institutions. He sees the company earning $3.93 a share in 1998.
Green also likes Tidewater Inc. (NYSE: TDW), an oil services company that supplies boats to rig operators in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea and off the coast of West Africa. Green says the outlook for Tidewater is bright because the oil drilling business remains robust. For Tidewater's fiscal 1999, ending in March of that year, he projects earnings of $4.95 a share.
Green Tree Financial Corp. (NYSE: GNT), a financer of manufactured housing, is now a bargain, Green says, after selling off in mid-November, following the company's decision to take a reserve to cover prepaid loans. Green feels the market overreacted to the news. He feels that despite the move Green Tree's "new business is healthy," and believes the company can earn $3.93 during the coming year.
Another favorite is Deere & Co. (NYSE: DE), the nation's biggest manufacturer of tractors and farm equipment. Green says the company is improving profit margins by keeping production costs down and closing unprofitable plants. Investors may have fled the stock late last year due to worries about economic problems in the Asian and Brazilian markets, but Green thinks that made the stock an even better bargain. "Deere's expanding overseas, but the lion's share of the company's business is in the U.S," he points out. He thinks the company can earn $4.25 a share in 1998.
Finally, Green likes railroad company Norfolk Southern Corp. (NYSE: NSC). "This is the premier railroad in the transportation industry," Green says, citing Norfolk's high profit margins and cost-cutting efforts. The company pays a dividend that yields 2.4% compared to an average 1.75% for the S&P 500 is the icing on the cake. Green expects earnings of $2.30 for 1998.
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Company Exchange: Symbol Stock Price(*) First Union Corp. NYSE: FTU $48.75 Tidewater Inc. NYSE: TDW 56.06 Green Tree Financial NYSE: GNT 30.63 Deere & Co. NYSE: DE 54.81 Norfold Southern NYSE: NSC 31.81 Est. Current Est. 5-Year Company Fiscal Yr. EPS EPS Growth First Union Corp. $3.87 11.6% Tidewater Inc. 4.03 23.5 Green Tree Financial 3.66 19.5 Deere & Co. 4.21 10.2 Norfold Southern 2.24 10.9