7 Small Company Stocks You Should Own Now

Stocks to buy

I recently saw a tweet from Charlie Bilello highlighting the top-performing S&P 500 stocks of the past 5, 10, 15, and 20 years. The top performers in each of these periods were once small company stocks.

For example, over the past 20 years, Monster Beverage (NASDAQ:MNST) delivered a cumulative return of 134,341%. A $1,000 invested in the energy drink company is now worth $1.34 million, good for a compound annual growth rate of 43.4%.

Who wouldn’t take this kind of long-term return?

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy, which is why many investors buy an index ETF such as the SPDR S&P 600 Small Cap ETF (NYSEARCA:SLY), which tracks the performance of the S&P Small Cap 600 Index, a collection of 601 companies with a median market capitalization of $1.33 billion, about 1/28th the market capitalization of the S&P 500.

However, I’m a fiend for free cash flow (FCF), so I’m going to select my seven small company stocks you should own now from the Pacer US Small Cap Cash Cows 100 ETF (BATS:CALF), a collection of 100 smaller companies that having high FCF and FCF yields over the trailing 12 months. The holdings are capped at a 2% weighting. They’re reconstituted and rebalanced four times a year.

As always, I’ll include stocks from at least four or five sectors. Here are seven small company stocks you should own now:

Ticker Company Price
AMN AMN Healthcare $109.43
MLI Meuller Industries $62.12
ASO Academy Sports & Outdoors $47.13
UFPI UFP Industries $73.63
CIVI Civitas Resources $62.76
SAH Sonic Automotive $46.71
HI Hillenbrand $40.60

AMN Healthcare (AMN)

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AMN Healthcare (NYSE:AMN) was recently named 2022’s best healthcare executive search firm by Modern Healthcare. According to the healthcare trade publication, AMN led all healthcare executive search companies with 1,080 placements.

However, while the company does a good job recruiting healthcare executives, AMN’s biggest revenue generator by a country mile is providing hospitals and other healthcare settings with nurse staffing services. In the 12 months ended June 30, it generated $4.04 billion from nurses and allied solutions, 6x what it generated from its physician and leadership solution segments.

Its September 2022 presentation laid out how its allocated capital from 2017 through the second quarter of 2022. Approximately 43% has been used for debt repayment, another 34% for acquisitions, 16% for share repurchases, and 7% for reinvesting in its business.

Between 2017 and the last 12 months through June 30, AMN has grown its FCF from $134 million to $458 million. Based on a market capitalization of $4.62 billion, it has an FCF yield of 9.9%. I consider anything above 8% to be in value territory.

Mueller Industries (MLI)

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Mueller Industries (NYSE:MLI) made InvestorPlace’s Chris Markoch’s recent list of water stocks to buy with high dividend payouts. The maker of pipes, valves, and fittings for both commercial and residential applications, has increased its dividend payment by an average of 9% annually over the past three years.

I like his way of thinking. Only a week ago, I included MLI stock in a list of three companies that I consider to be hidden gems. I, too, am impressed with its financials.

Through the first half of 2022, it had an operating income of $481.6 million, 22.3% of its revenue and 92.3% higher than a year earlier. As Chris alluded to, it finished the second quarter with $203 million in cash on the balance sheet against long-term debt of $1.1 million.

However, investors should keep in mind that what it doesn’t have in long-term debt, it does have in pension and postretirement liabilities, which were $16.6 million at the end of June. Even with these obligations, Mueller’s balance sheet is pristine.

Over the past five years, it’s deployed $1.2 billion in capital in its business. Between special and regular dividends, the company allocated 56% to return capital to shareholders through share repurchases and dividends. In addition, it spent 27% on acquisitions and 17% on capital expenditures.

As I said in my Sept. 14 article, Mueller has an FCF yield above 13%. That makes MLI stock cheap in my books.

Academy Sports & Outdoors (ASO)

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Could Academy Sports & Outdoors (NASDAQ:ASO) be the next Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS)? ASO’s market cap currently is less than half Dick’s, the leading national sporting goods chain.

Nonetheless, Academy’s hitting all the right notes in 2022. It’s up almost 7% year-to-date compared to a -2.7% return for Dick’s. Over the past five years, Dick’s has outperformed Academy, but it looks ready to give DKS a fight over the next five.

The full-line sporting goods retailer reported its Q2 2022 results in early September. Three stats caught my interest.

First, its e-commerce sales grew 12.1% in the quarter. It was the fourth consecutive quarter with double-digit e-commerce growth. They accounted for 10.0% of its $1.68 billion in total merchandise sales.

Secondly, its sales in Q2 increased 36.3% over Q2 2019. Compared to 2019, its pre-tax income jumped by more than 400% in the quarter to $247.0 million; the Business is doing just fine.

Lastly, it intends to open 80-100 stores over the next five years. That will bring its retail footprint to 351 at the midpoint of its expansion plan. That will see its earnings per share continue to increase. It expects to earn at least $6.75 a share in 2022.

Sporting goods have always been an excellent long-term investment. People love playing sports. 

UFP Industries (UFPI)

Source: shutterstock.com/Free Belarus

UFP Industries (NASDAQ:UFPI) is a holding company that manufactures and markets wood and wood-alternative products worldwide through three business segments: UFP Retail Solutions, UFP Industrial, and UFP Construction.

Formerly known as Universal Forest Products, it realigned its management structure at the beginning of 2020, to focus on business segments rather than geography.

It’s been busy since then, making acquisitions, both large and small, to help meet customer needs and grow at the same time. In 2021, UFP acquired 10 businesses generating more than $1.2 billion in annual revenue.

Focused on innovation, it announced in early September that it had appointed Allen Peters, the current President of UFP Retail Solutions, to Executive Vice President of Innovation. Peters will lead the company’s Innovation Accelerator and Innov8 Fund teams in this role.

In 2013, just 3% of the company’s sales were from new products. In 2021, they were 10% of sales. UFP wants to build on that percentage.

In Q2 2022, UFP’s sales were up 7% to a record $2.9 billion, with a 21% increase in operating profits, to $286 million. New product sales were up 37% to $181 million in the quarter.

Little by little, it will get there.

Civitas Resources (CIVI)

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Given the strength in energy stocks in 2022 — the S&P 500’s energy stocks are up 41.2% YTD through Sept. 19 — it wouldn’t seem right not to include an energy name in the mix.

I’m going with Civitas Resources (NYSE:CIVI), a Denver-based oil and gas company operating primarily in the Wattenberg Field of the Denver-Julesburg Basin in Colorado. It owns approximately 500,000 acres, producing 175,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boe/d). It is the largest pure-play in the Denver-Julesburg basin.

As has become the custom with oil and gas companies in 2022, Civitas has gone to fixed and variable dividend payments. During its Q2 2022 results, it upped its fixed-plus-variable dividend by nearly 30% to $1.7625 per share. The annualized payment of $7.05 yields 11.4%.

Its FCF for the first six months was $643.1 million, well above $24.5 million from a year earlier. A big chunk of the increase was due to its November 2021 merger with Extraction Oil and Gas for $1.8 billion.

“We are seeing the benefits of 18 months of large-scale DJ Basin-focused M&A allowing us to deliver better-than-expected volumes, manage industry-wide cost inflation, and generate significant free cash flow which we are aggressively returning to shareholders, all while preserving the strength of our balance sheet,” stated CEO Chris Doyle in its Q2 2022 press release.

CIVI stock is up 22% YTD and 43% over the past year.

Sonic Automotive (SAH)

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Many automotive retailers, including Sonic Automotive (NYSE:SAH), have seen their stock ratings cut by BofA Global Research in September. Analyst John Murphy cut SAH to “underperform” from “buy” on Sept. 9 on supply chain concerns.

“‘2022 is not the stabilization/ inflection year many had hoped for, but what is surprising is that supply-chain issues are likely to persist into 2023,’ BofA analyst John Murphy wrote in a research note,” Barron’s reported.

However, there’s a silver lining in Murphy’s cut. He believes the next few years will be modest for dealership sales, with the peak in North American demand hitting in 2028.

While Murphy cut his price target for Sonic by $11 to $71, it’s still 52% higher than its current share price.

On Aug. 10, EchoPark, the company’s used car business, announced that it had signed VaynerMedia as its advertising agency. The company will work with VaynerMedia to develop a brand campaign for later in 2022. VaynerMedia will be responsible for all of the company’s marketing efforts to grow its reach to 90% of the U.S. population by 2025.

During the second quarter, Sonic sold 3.08 million vehicles, new and used, up 9% over Q2 2021. Due to its ongoing expansion efforts with EchoPark, its adjusted EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) fell slightly to $188.4 million.

Over the past five years, SAH stock is up 135%, 2.5x the S&P 500. It’s an excellent long-term buy despite its small-cap status.

Hillenbrand (HI)

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The first time I wrote about Hillenbrand (NYSE:HI) was back in April 2017. I included it in a list of “The 7 Best Retirement Stocks That No One Talks About.”

One of the reasons I selected HI was because it was a consistent dividend grower. At the time of my article, Hillenbrand was paying a quarterly dividend of $0.2050. Annualized, it would yield 2.0%. As of today, it pays $0.2175 a quarter, good for a 2.1% yield.

Like I said at the time, it wouldn’t make you rich, but it would provide steady growth over the long haul.

Today, it has three business units: Advanced Process Solutions (APS), Molding Technology Solutions (MTS), and Batesville Casket Company, instead of two. The argument’s been made that Hillenbrand should spin off its casket business into an independent public company to unlock shareholder value. The company is exploring strategic alternatives, including a sale or spinoff. It has yet to conclude the review.

Essentially, the argument goes that the business is being valued for less by investors than the sum of its three parts. Were the casket business on its own, investors would have an easier time valuing the two firms.

However, if you look at its Q2 2022 results, an argument can be made that Hillenbrand could be split into three independent public companies.

From where I sit, a three-way split makes sense. Hillenbrand has underperformed for shareholders since I recommended it back in 2017.

On the date of publication, Will Ashworth did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in the securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

Will Ashworth has written about investments full-time since 2008. Publications where he’s appeared include InvestorPlace, The Motley Fool Canada, Investopedia, Kiplinger, and several others in both the U.S. and Canada. He particularly enjoys creating model portfolios that stand the test of time. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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