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Opportunity in unloved companies? – 3 value share ideas

We look at three FTSE 100 shares where weak investor sentiment might not reflect the longer-term prospects.

Important information - This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure whether an investment is right for you please seek advice. If you choose to invest the value of your investment will rise and fall, so you could get back less than you put in.

2023 has been an eventful year for investors with lots of stock market ups and downs.

One of the biggest investment themes of the year was the return of ‘growth’ stocks.

After the style experienced a horrible 2022, growth investing was back with a bang, leaving ‘value’ investing lagging behind. However, while it might have been a tough year for value shares, there’s still opportunity out there.

Here are three companies where we think weak investor sentiment might not reflect the longer-term prospects.

This article isn’t personal advice. If you’re not sure an investment is right for you, seek advice. Investments and any income from them will rise and fall in value, so you could get back less than you invest. Ratios also shouldn’t be looked at on their own.

Investing in an individual company isn’t right for everyone because if that company fails, you could lose your whole investment. If you cannot afford this, investing in a single company might not be right for you. You should make sure you understand the companies you’re investing in and their specific risks. You should also make sure any shares you own are part of a diversified portfolio.

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1

British American Tobacco

British American Tobacco (BATS) is fighting hard to maintain market share in traditional combustible products (cigarettes and cigars) in its largest market, the United States. This is proving challenging and it's weighing on financial performance.

In other territories, the picture looks brighter. There are also rays of hope that BATS' efforts to stem the tide in the US are bearing fruit. But it's against the backdrop of a declining market. For the immediate future, combustibles remain the key driver of profitability. That means any further slowdown could further dent investor sentiment.

The group was early to recognise changes in consumer behaviour and is increasingly pinning its hopes for the future on its portfolio of 'smokeless' products, like vapes.

These categories are set to become profitable in 2024, two years ahead of the original plan. There's now a target in place for them to generate over half of total revenues by 2035.

We admire the ambition, but with pressure building for tighter regulation and higher taxes on these products, there will be challenges along the way. Only time will tell if new ‘smokeless’ products can achieve the same attractive margins that BATS has become accustomed to.

Consistently high cash flows mean the company is well placed to make the investments necessary to keep pivoting away from cigarettes.

It also leaves room to support an attractive dividend yield which, is now in double-digit territory. But share buybacks remain on hold and are unlikely to be reconsidered until net debt drops a little further. Remember though, yields are variable and no dividend is ever guaranteed.

The weakness seen in the valuation suggests there's still a job to be done in convincing investors that New Categories can underpin BATS' future. Successful execution of the strategy could well drive a re-rating. But there are likely to be bumps ahead, so investors need to be prepared for some volatility.

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2

GSK

With two earnings upgrades over 2023, GSK would appear to be in a good place. But the valuation remains below the long-term average and lags lots of its peers in the pharmaceutical space.

Lingering question marks over cancer links to heartburn drug Zantac could be the reason for the valuation gap. Significant progress has been made to limit potential legal claims, but it remains a risk to be mindful of with the result of a key ruling expected early next year.

Vaccines are proving to be one of the biggest growth drivers.

Further growth is expected for Shingrix, used for the prevention of shingles as it targets higher patient acceptance and new markets. The recently approved respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) vaccine, Arexvy, has made a good start following its commercial launch. There’s also strong regulatory progress towards approvals for a wider patient population.

The group has a strong presence in HIV treatments too, which make up about a fifth of total revenues. Its newer HIV treatments are a key part of GSK's future, as generic competitors eat away at pricing power for some of the group's legacy treatments.

Over the first nine months of 2023, it was encouraging to see a growing contribution from the group’s ‘Innovation’ therapies – two drug and long-acting regimens now make up over half of total HIV sales.

Looking ahead, the preventative treatment Apretude could fuel further growth. It's already authorised in some territories and importantly the EU has been recently added to that list.

Net debt currently sits at about 1.8x forecast cash profits. That's a level that we feel comfortable with, and a position that looks set to improve given the strong levels of cash generation and recent £0.9bn disposal of Haleon shares.

The solid financial position supports a prospective dividend yield of 4.2%. But while forecasted pay outs are more than twice covered by forecasted free cash flow, no dividends can ever be assured.

Strong execution of the growth strategy and clinical pipeline are likely to be the key focus for shareholders going forward. So far so good, but remember the drug approval process is long and expensive, with many treatments never seeing the light of day.

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3

NatWest

Valuations in the UK banking sector are well below the long-run average. NatWest has had its own challenges this year. Concerns about corporate governance led to significant changes to the board of directors. More recently the group’s seen a greater than expected rush by its customers switching to higher interest longer-term savings products. That’s impacting profitability. Based on analyst forecasts for forward earnings, the valuation is now at close to 10-year lows.

But there‘s a lot to be positive about.

Management are confident that the drop in net interest margin (a measure of profitability in borrowing/lending), will be less pronounced in the final quarter of 2023. In 2024 things are expected to stabilise, although there can be no guarantees.

Provisions set aside for debt defaults were better than first thought and full-year guidance remains intact. This is something to keep a close eye on, but default levels are staying low for now.

We don't think NatWest is top of the pack when it comes to the quality of its mortgage book. But on the flip side, NatWest boasts one of the lowest levels of higher-risk unsecured lending in the sector.

Costs are an ongoing point of note, and a key focus for the new CEO. We've been pleased to see continued progress on reducing the cost:income ratio (51.4% third quarter) – medium-term targets look for sub 50%.

Keeping costs in check is an ongoing challenge, especially in a high-inflation world. Running on a CET1 ratio – which essentially shows how well capitalised banks are – of 13.5% is still very comfortable. We think this underpins the 7.4% dividend yield, although no dividends are ever guaranteed.

NatWest is poised to benefit from some of the structural tailwinds that should lift sector earnings over the medium term. Mortgage pricing is currently a pain point, as more profitable business written over the pandemic is replaced. That should be a headwind that eases over 2024.

There's also the benefit from the structural hedge to come through – think of this like a bond portfolio that's set to roll on to better rates over the coming years.

All in, at current valuations, the potential for returns over the long term look attractive for both the business and shareholders, although of course there are no guarantees.

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This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment. No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment. This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication. Non-independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place (including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing. Please see our full non-independent research disclosure for more information.

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Written by
Derren Nathan
Derren Nathan
Head of Equity Research

Derren leads our Equity Research team with more than 15 years of experience in his field. Thriving in a passionate environment, Derren finds motivation in intellectual challenges and exploring diverse ideas within his writing.

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Article history
Published: 21st December 2023