How to find undervalued stocks
If you can identify undervalued shares, you could unlock certain trading opportunities. Discover eight ways to spot these stocks and find out how to trade and invest in them.
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What are undervalued stocks?
Undervalued stocks are those with a price lower than their real – ‘fair’ – value. Stocks can be undervalued for many reasons, including the recognisability of the company, negative press and market crashes.
A key assumption of fundamental analysis is that market prices will correct over time to reflect an asset’s fair value, creating opportunities for profit. Finding undervalued stocks isn’t just about finding cheap stocks. The key is to look for quality stocks at prices under their fair values, rather than useless stocks at a very low price. The difference is that good quality stocks will rise in value over the long term.
Remember, you should always gather the right financial information about a stock you’re looking to trade and not make decisions based on personal opinions alone.
Why do stocks become undervalued?
Stocks become undervalued for different reasons, including:
- Changes to the market: market crashes or corrections could cause stock prices to drop
- Sudden bad news: stocks can become undervalued due to negative press, or economic, political and social changes
- Cyclical fluctuations: some industries’ stocks perform poorly over certain quarters, which affects share prices
- Misjudged results: when stocks don’t perform as predicted, the price can take a fall
Eight ways to spot undervalued stocks
So, how do traders spot undervalued stocks? Mostly by using ratios, as part of their fundamental analysis. Here are eight ratios commonly used by traders and investors to spot undervalued stocks and determine their true value:
- Price-to-earnings ratio (P/E)
- Debt-equity ratio (D/E)
- Return on equity (ROE)
- Earnings yield
- Dividend yield
- Current ratio
- Price-earnings to growth ratio (PEG)
- Price-to-book ratio (P/B)
In the section below, we look at each of these in detail. Keep in mind that a ‘good’ ratio will vary by industry or sector, as they all have different competitive pressures.
Price-to-earnings ratio (P/E)
A company’s P/E ratio is the most popular way to measure its value. In essence, it shows how much you’d have to spend to make $1 in profit. A low P/E ratio could mean the stocks are undervalued. P/E ratio is calculated by dividing the price per share by the earnings per share (EPS). EPS is calculated by dividing the total company profit by the number of shares they’ve issued.
P/E ratio example: You buy ABC shares at $50 per share, and ABC has 10 million shares in circulation and turns a profit of $100 million. This means the EPS is $10 ($100 million/10 million) and the P/E ratio equals 5 ($50/$10). Therefore, you’ll have to invest $5 for every $1 in profit.
Debt-equity ratio (D/E)
D/E ratio measures a company’s debt against its assets. A higher ratio could mean that the company gets most of its funding from lending, not from its shareholders – however, that doesn’t necessarily mean that its stock is undervalued. To establish this, a company’s D/E ratio should always be measured against the average for its competitors. That’s because a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ratio depends on the industry. D/E ratio is calculated by dividing liabilities by stockholder equity.
D/E ratio example: ABC has $1 billion in debt (liabilities) and a stockholder equity of $500 million. The D/E ratio would be 2 ($1 billion/$500 million). This means there is $2 of debt for every $1 of equity.
Return on equity (ROE)
ROE is a percentage that measures a company’s profitability against its equity. ROE is calculated by dividing net income by shareholder equity. A high ROE could mean that the shares are undervalued, because the company is generating a lot of income relative to the amount of shareholder investment.
ROE example: ABC has a net income (income minus liabilities) of $90 million and stockholder equity of $500 million. Therefore, the ROE is equal to 18% ($90 million/$500 million).
Earnings yield can be seen as the P/E ratio in reverse. Instead of it being price per share divided by earnings, it is EPS divided by the price. Some traders consider stock to be undervalued if the earnings yield is higher than the average interest rate the US government pays when borrowing money (known as the treasury yield).
Earnings yield example: ABC has EPS of $10 and the share price is $50. The earnings yield will be equal to 20% ($10/$50).
Dividend yield is a term used to describe a company’s annual dividends – the portion of profit paid out to stockholders – compared to its share price. To calculate the percentage, you'd divide the annual dividend by the current share price. Traders and investors like companies with solid dividend yields, because it could mean more stability and substantial profits.
Dividend yield example: ABC pays out dividends of $5 per share every year. The current share price is $50, which means the dividend yield is 10% ($5/$50).
A company’s current ratio is a measure of its ability to pay off debts. It's calculated by simply dividing assets by liabilities. A current ratio lower than 1 normally means liabilities can’t be adequately covered by the available assets. The lower the current ratio, the higher the likelihood that the stock price will continue to drop – even to the point of it becoming undervalued.
Current ratio example: ABC has $1.2 billion in assets and $1 billion in liabilities (debt), so the current ratio equals 1.2 ($1.2 billion/$1 billion).
Price-earnings to growth ratio (PEG)
PEG ratio looks at the P/E ratio compared to the percentage growth in annual EPS. If a company has solid earnings and a low PEG ratio, it could mean that its stock is undervalued. To calculate the PEG ratio, divide the P/E ratio by the percentage growth in annual EPS.
PEG ratio example: ABC’s P/E ratio is 5 (price per share divided by EPS) and its annual earnings growth rate is 20%. The PEG ratio would be equal to 0.25 (5/20%).
Price-to-book ratio (P/B)
P/B ratio is used to assess the current market price against the company’s book value (assets minus liabilities, divided by number of shares issued). To calculate it, divide the market price per share by the book value per share. A stock could be undervalued if the P/B ratio is lower than 1.
P/B ratio example: ABC’s shares are selling for $50 a share, and its book value is $70, which means the P/B ratio is 0.71 ($50/$70).
How to buy undervalued stocks: trading and investing
You can speculate on the price of shares (trade) or buy stocks outright (invest). Read on for the details on each
Trading undervalued stocks
You can trade undervalued stocks via leveraged derivatives, namely spread bets and CFDs. You won’t take ownership of any shares and you can speculate on rising – or even falling – share prices (example: go long or short).
There are some differences between spread betting and CFD trading, but both require a deposit, called margin, to open a position. Both of these products could hold tax benefits for certain individuals in the UK.1
How to trade undervalued shares:
- Create an account or log in
- Search for your preferred stock on our trading platform
- Select ‘buy’ or ‘sell’ in the deal ticket
- Set your position size and take steps to manage your risk
- Open and monitor your position
Note that trading on leverage magnifies your risk, because your profits and losses are both calculated on the full value of your position – not the deposit used to open it. Always take appropriate steps to manage your risk before committing your capital.
Investing in undervalued shares
Investing in undervalued shares means you’re buying stock outright and taking direct ownership. You could receive dividends if the company grants them, and you’ll also get voting rights. With us, you can invest in US shares from zero commission, or UK shares from £3 commission.2
How to invest in undervalued shares:
- Create an account or log in
- Search for your preferred stock on our share dealing platform
- Select ‘buy’ in the deal ticket
- Choose the number of shares you want to buy
- Open and monitor your investment position
When investing in shares, you’ll have to commit the full value of the position upfront. Any company’s share price can rise and fall, so you may get back less than your initial investment – you’ll only profit if you sell your shares for more than the original buy price.
1 Tax laws are subject to change and depend on individual circumstances. Tax law may differ in a jurisdiction other than the UK.
2 Commission rates differ for UK and US shares. Trade in your share dealing account three or more times in the previous month to qualify for our best commission rates. Please note published rates are valid up to £25,000 notional value.
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This information has been prepared by IG, a trading name of IG Markets Limited. In addition to the disclaimer below, the material on this page does not contain a record of our trading prices, or an offer of, or solicitation for, a transaction in any financial instrument. IG accepts no responsibility for any use that may be made of these comments and for any consequences that result. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. Consequently any person acting on it does so entirely at their own risk. Any research provided does not have regard to the specific investment objectives, financial situation and needs of any specific person who may receive it. It has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and as such is considered to be a marketing communication. Although we are not specifically constrained from dealing ahead of our recommendations we do not seek to take advantage of them before they are provided to our clients. See full non-independent research disclaimer and quarterly summary.
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