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10 Industries That Haven't Been This Cheap in at Least 5 Years

Sean Williams, The Motley Fool

As you're likely aware, the stock market doesn't go up in a straight line -- even if 2017 sort of made it feel like it did. The stock market regularly goes through corrections, some of which will turn into bear markets. This is an inevitable part of investing, and the price of admission if you want an opportunity to grow your wealth over time.

Likewise, no two stocks, industries, or sectors of the stock market perform the same. Some are traditionally slower growing, and therefore tend to be valued at lower historical earnings multiples. Other industries and sectors grow rather quickly and are rewarded by Wall Street with a considerably higher historic earnings multiple.

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These 10 industries are historically cheap

But regardless of whether you're looking at an industry with a single-digit forward price-to-earnings ratio (forward P/E) or one with a historically high forward P/E above 30, one thing is constant: These industries are rarely ever hovering around their historic average forward P/E for a long period of time. Finding industries that are valued well below their historic average may yield intriguing bargains.

With this in mind, I turned to market analytics firm Yardeni Research's data (as of Jan. 24, 2019) on the S&P 500's forward P/E ratios for all of its sectors and industries. Among the dozens of industries represented in the broad-based index, 10 are currently valued at a forward P/E that represents, at minimum, a five-year low. In no particular order, these industries are:

Industry  Forward P/E Lowest Forward P/E Since...
Household appliances 7.4 2011
Packaged foods 15.1 2012
Brewers 12.9 2013
Healthcare services 10.3 Lowest on record 
Biotechnology  12 2011
Construction machinery & heavy trucks 10.1 2012
Integrated telecommunication services 10.2 2009
Steel  9.3 2012
Diversified chemicals  11.6 2012
Semiconductor equipment 9.6 2010

Data source: Yardeni Research. Forward P/E data as of Jan. 24, 2019. 

As you can see, investors have their choice, from traditionally slow-growth and/or cyclical companies in the household appliance and steel industries to faster-growing industries like biotechnology. While I'd encourage you to peruse all 10 of these industries, here are a few names that stand out as particularly intriguing.

AT&T (Integrated telecommunication services)

Telecom giant AT&T (NYSE: T) just delivered a fourth-quarter report that, once again, Wall Street didn't particularly care for. Video subscribers continue to disappoint following the acquisition of Time Warner, which was completed in June. But at a forward P/E of 8, AT&T is about as cheap as it's been in a decade, and there's plenty of reason to still be excited about its future.

This year we'll really see the ramp-up of 5G network rollouts, with continued heavy investment by AT&T in these considerably faster networks. Since consumers are highly data-driven, and 5G-capable smartphones are likely to hit the market sometime this late spring or summer, a long upgrade cycle is about to ensue. That's a positive for smartphone manufacturers, and it's great news for AT&T's high-margin data business.

Let's not forget that AT&T also managed to grow its cash from operations in 2018 by 15% (mostly from the Time Warner acquisition) to $43.6 billion, and is forecasting free cash flow in the neighborhood of $26 billion in 2019, with low-single-digit earnings-per-share growth. This certainly isn't the rapid growth story it once was, but AT&T is as steady as a rock, and it has a superior yield to prove it. 

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Celgene (Biotechnology)

Go ahead and call me crazy, but even with Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) being acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY), it presents intriguing value here. The deal itself will see Bristol-Myers Squibb pay $50 in cash and one Bristol-Myers share for each share currently held by Celgene stakeholders. Based on Bristol-Myers' closing price of $50.85 on Monday, Feb. 4, it implies a $100.85 purchase price. Celgene, however, closed at $87.57. This represents a potential arbitrage opportunity of 15.2% -- and it doesn't even include the $9 in contingent value rights that Celgene shareholders would receive if three regulatory milestones are met between the end of 2020 and the end of March 2021.

But, let's play devil's advocate and say the deal doesn't go through for whatever reason. Celgene still has its lead drug, Revlimid, protected from a flood of generic entrants until the end of January 2026, and is set to bring a number of blockbusters to market in the years to come, including ozanimod as a treatment for multiple sclerosis. Between its dozens of partnerships, organic label expansion, and existing pipeline, Celgene's forward P/E of just 7 is incredibly cheap.

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Whirlpool (Household appliances)

Just as Wall Street balked at AT&T, it's done the same for multiple quarters now with appliance giant Whirlpool (NYSE: WHR). Reporting its full-year results last week, Whirlpool highlighted the struggles it's faced with regard to higher steel and aluminum prices tied to tariffs from the U.S.-China trade war. Forced to pass along higher prices to consumers clearly hurt the company's North American business in 2018. But with a forward P/E of 8, Whirlpool still has plenty that it can bring to the table.

Whirlpool has been pushing into Asia in recent years via acquisitions, which should work out nicely seeing as how Asia offers a more robust growth rate. Excluding currency movements, fourth-quarter sales in Asia rose 11.2%. Where growth isn't as robust, Whirlpool is remaining disciplined with its spending, which it expects will lead to nearly $1.5 billion in operating cash flow at the midpoint in 2019, and between $800 million and $900 million in free cash flow. This ability to generate ample cash in pretty much any economic environment is what allows Whirlpool to pay out $4.60 annually in dividends

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Celanese (Diversified chemicals)

Although diversified chemicals is not an industry I frequent often, diversified chemicals giant Celanese (NYSE: CE) has been delivering solid growth for investors, both organically and inorganically, and getting very little respect for it.

In the company's full-year results, which were released last week, the producer of value-added chemicals and polymers reported net sales growth of 17% for 2018 to $7.16 billion, with its Acetyl Chain segment delivering the bulk of the growth. Acetyl products are used in colorants, paints, coatings, adhesives, and pharmaceutical products. Being able to pass along a 19% price hike helped immensely, with Acetyl Chain operating profits doubling year over year.

Celanese's second-largest segment by sales, Engineered Materials, also saw revenue rise 17% in 2018, with price and volume driving this expansion. In fact, Celanese delivered its fifth straight year of operating profit expansion for its Engineered Materials division. At a forward P/E of just 8.5, and having returned $1.1 billion to shareholders through buybacks and dividends in 2018, Celanese is worth a closer look. 

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Sean Williams owns shares of AT&T and Celgene. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Celgene. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.