Tags: packer | European | Companies

Two European Companies at Compelling Valuations

By Andrew Packer   |   Friday, 16 Sep 2011 07:00 AM

There’s blood on the streets in Europe. As I said on Tuesday, Greece has quickly come back to its European neighbors with threats of default without another bailout.

Europe is a watering hole that keeps extending its last call. Greece is just the most brazen drunkard in the lot asking for more liquidity. Some of its buddies, Spain, Portugal and Ireland in particular, are a bit sloshed themselves.

Maybe things will get worse, and maybe they won’t. Frankly, I don’t know. If I could predict the future with that kind of stunning accuracy, I’d be living on some private island right now.

What I do know is that all stocks European have sold off, but all stocks are not created equal. Two, at these prices, look like the proverbial baby in the bathwater.

Both are international stocks with a strong international presence, well diversified, and pay decent dividends to investors. Best of all, they’re companies with far better earnings characteristics than their American counterparts. And at these prices, they’re worth a closer look, if not outright investment for investors who don’t mind a little short-term volatility.

The first is Unilever (UN), the Dutch/British consumer goods conglomerate. Their products are well-known to any household in America. They include Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Dove soap, among dozens of others. No wonder shares are only down a modest 10 percent from their 52-week highs.

Unilever has also pursued a policy of rapid growth in emerging market economies, namely the BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Shares yield 3.5 percent, a hair better than comparable company Proctor and Gamble. But there’s a bigger difference between the two. PG isn’t moving as aggressively into emerging markets, and they’re scaling back on product development for the middle-class market.

The second European company worth a closer look is German industrial conglomerate Siemens (SI). Even after a relief rally this week, the company has seen its shares fall nearly 35 percent within the past three months.

Siemens is best known for electrical and engineering technology, a sort of European General Electric. But Siemens also operates in the energy industry, manufactures healthcare products, and holds equity investments in real estate, entertainment, and technical building services.

The company’s balance sheet is excellent for a manufacturer. The company holds $22 billion in cash against $26 billion in debt. Siemens operates in 105 countries.

General Electric, on the other hand, has been divesting from manufacturing products over the past several decades. The company expanded into finance instead, causing them to accumulate over $400 billion dollars in debt.

GE needed (and got) a government bailout during the credit crunch.

Today, the company is reporting strong earnings, and recently increased their dividend. That action may fool most investors.

Astute investors will note the company’s debt load. It’s financed at short-term rates, which may not always be so low. They’ll also note that GE’s profitability is helped by its billions of dollars in tax losses.

GE doesn’t have the liquidity that Siemens has to stay afloat if credit markets lock up again.

Europe’s selloff is creating some great opportunities, especially for a duo of international conglomerates that seem better positioned than comparable American companies.

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