3 shares at 52-week lows: Is it time to pick up a bargain?

With the S&P/ASX 200 (Index: ^AXJO) (ASX:XJO) now trading below 5,000 points and well below its 52-week high of 5,996 points, it is unsurprising to see the number of shares trading at 52-week lows far outweighs the number of shares trading at 52-week highs.

Perhaps even more unsurprising for investors is that the list of shares trading at 52-week lows is dominated by energy and resources companies. Commodity and energy prices have collapsed sharply over recent months and the outlook remains unclear for many of the companies in these sectors. With further uncertainty surrounding China’s economic outlook compounding the situation, there could be further pain to come for many of these stocks.

Looking beyond the energy and resources sector, there are a number of interesting shares trading at 52-week lows, including:

IMF Bentham Ltd (ASX: IMF)

It has been a difficult 12 months for shareholders of IMF Bentham with the share price falling by more than 50% since hitting a high of $2.48 early in 2015. The company provides litigation funding for class actions, but generates profits when an action it funds is successful.

Despite the company having a strong track record of selecting cases that have a high probability of succeeding, IMF Bentham suffered a number of case loses in the second half of FY15. This resulted in earnings per share falling by 42% for the full year and the subsequent loss of investor confidence.

The nature of litigation funding means it is difficult to forecast earnings growth with a high level of certainty because it is unknown how long a case will last or whether it will even be successful. As a result, it is difficult to make an accurate valuation for the company and therefore it remains a high-risk investment that relies on perfect timing in my opinion.

Billabong International Limited (ASX: BBG)

Billabong is two years into its turnaround strategy but the company is still facing a number of headwinds created from volatile currency fluctuations, competitor price discounting and market weakness in the US.

These challenges were highlighted at the company’s AGM in November where management warned the market that EBITDA would be $2.5 million lower for the first four months of FY16 compared to FY15. The share price fell more than 20% on the day and has continued to drift lower even since.

Investors will be keen to see Billabong’s trading results across the all-important Christmas period when it updates the market next month. If the results are below expectations, it is likely the share price could continue to fall even lower.

Until Billabong begins to deliver consistent earnings growth, I think investors should feel free to buy their clothing, but think twice about buying their shares.

Spotless Group Holdings Ltd (ASX: SPO)

Despite a promising start as a public company, a profit downgrade released in December has seen the share price of Spotless fall like a stone. Since the update was provided to the market, the share price has declined by more than 55% to trade at 97.5 cents.

A number of higher-than-expected one-off costs, fewer-than-expected contract wins and new acquisitions that are performing below expectations are impacting earnings and Spotless is now expecting FY16 EBITDA to be flat year on year, with net profit after tax (NPAT) to be approximately 10% below last year.

This update was extremely disappointing considering that only six weeks prior, management delivered positive guidance at the company’s AGM. This raises questions about management’s capabilities and whether or not enough due diligence was undertaken in regards to recent acquisitions.

Despite these negatives, it could be argued that at the current share price, Spotless offers an attractive value proposition with turnaround potential. Conservative investors, however, may want to wait until the next trading update is provided as any further surprises will see the share price under pressure again.

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Motley Fool contributor Christopher Georges has no position in any stocks mentioned. Unless otherwise noted, the author does not have a position in any stocks mentioned by the author in the comments below. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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