Three Stocks for a Recovering Europe

It’s getting harder to find bargains in the stock market these days.  American stocks aren’t expensive, per se, but they’re not exactly a bargain either.

The S&P 500 trades for 17 times earnings, which is slightly above the long-term average.  If you’re aggressively buying U.S. stocks at these levels, you’re either expecting earnings growth to pick up speed in the coming quarters…or you’re looking to sell to a greater fool.

Yet across the Pond, there are some noteworthy values to be found.  Five years of on-again / off-again crisis have turned investors away from Old Europe and have created some real bargains for those of us willing to look.

I’ll start with Norwegian oil and gas giant Statoil ($STO).  I’ve had my eyes on Statoil for years—and recommended it in the March 2013 issue of the Sizemore Investment Letter—because of its unique strategic position.

You see, Statoil is the second-largest natural gas producer in Europe after Russia’s Gazprom.  Russia’s tendency to use its gas supplies as a geopolitical weapon has incentivized Europe to look elsewhere, and Statoil has been a major beneficiary.  Add to this Europe’s commitment to use less carbon-intensive energy sources as part of its environmental commitments, and you have the makings of an excellent macro backdrop.

Statoil is cheap to the point of being hard to believe.  It trades for 8 times forward earnings and 0.65 times sales.  With Europe in and out of recession, Wall Street just can’t get comfortable with owning a European energy stock.

Their loss.  Statoil pays 4% in dividends and has a long record of raising its dividend every year.  We can buy it and milk the dividend indefinitely while we’re waiting for its value to be realized.

Next on the list is Daimler ($DDAIF), my recommendation in InvestorPlace’s 10 Stocks for 2013 contest.  As this is going to press, Daimler was sitting pretty in first place with a 10-point lead over Mylan ($MYL) in the second spot.

Yet despite Daimler strong performance this year, the stock is still shockingly cheap.  Daimler—the premier global luxury automaker—trades for just 8 times earnings.  That represents a 45% discount to the broader German market, by Bloomberg estimates.

Daimler also trades for just 0.49 times sales and sports a 4% dividend…and nearly a third of its market cap is in cash.  Investors have been unwilling to pay up for the stock due to Europe’s economic malaise and due to fears of a hard Chinese landing.  Yet Daimler shares my view that the worst is already behind us in Europe and that the continent is (at least slowly) making a recovery.

Even after its recent run-up, Daimler is still a buy.

Finally, no list of European blue chips would be complete without beer giant Heineken ($HEINY).

Beer sales are actually pretty weak in Europe, and it’s not just due to the economy.  It’s demographics.  Heineken’s core beer-guzzling Baby Boomer clientele is drinking less as it ages, and it’s not being replaced by younger Europeans.  Like their American counterparts, younger Europeans tend to prefer vodka-based cocktails.

Let me let you in on a little secret: I don’t care.

Not in the slightest.  So long as Heineken’s European sales more or less stay steady and avoid rapid shrinkage, Heineken is still an excellent long-term growth stock for its presence in emerging markets and particularly Africa.

Africa is the last real frontier market, and Heineken already gets about a quarter of its profits from the continent.  As African living standards and incomes continue to rise, Heineken is in a unique position to benefit.

I consider Heineken one of those select few stocks that I would be comfortable buying and holding forever, or at least for the foreseeable future.  And today, you can buy it for less than 10 times earnings and 1.5 times sales.  As a point of reference, Anheuser-Busch InBev ($BUD) trades for 20 times earnings and 3.5 times sales…and the iconic maker of Bud Light and Stella Artois doesn’t have anything close to Heineken’s opportunities in Africa.

Disclosures: Sizemore Capital is long STO, DDAIF and HEINY.  This article first appeared on InvestorPlace.

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