Two outstandingly cheap UK stocks in an age of mad valuations

In these times of nutty company valuations, there is still plenty of opportunity around, says Merryn Somerset Webb. Take these two stocks, for example.

Vodafone shop
Vodafone contains plenty of value
(Image credit: © Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A note comes from Ian Lance at RWC Partners – which runs the Temple Bar Investment Trust many MoneyWeek readers hold.

Back in May 2020 he wrote a blog (which you can read here) about a group of stocks he felt were so cheap that large parts of the business were effectively free. In each case one division alone was (on his valuation methods at least) worth more than the market capitalisation of the entire group. It seemed mad at the time – and it was.

Since then, the share prices of each of the companies mentioned have soared. Royal Mail is up 170%, Marks & Spencer up 145% and the rest (Capita, ITV and BT) are up between 35 and 68%. Over the same time, the FTSE All Share is up 30%.

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Of interest are two other stocks Lance points to for similar reasons – Shell and Vodafone. I’ve copied his rationale for both below – not necessarily to suggest you buy them (I hold Shell) but as a reminder that in these times of slightly nutty valuations, there is still plenty of opportunity around for those prepared to take non-consensus views.

As we discussed at length at yesterday’s Moneyweek Wealth Summit, today’s markets are fragile. When the ice begins to crack, better to be in stuff that is already cheap than stuff that is going to get cheap very quickly indeed.

Royal Dutch Shell

Third Point, the US based activist fund manager, recently announced that that they had taken a significant position in Royal Dutch Shell in the belief that the entirety of the company’s stock market value is accounted for by what they termed its Energy Transition businesses (Integrated Gas, Marketing and Renewables) leaving its upstream, refining and chemicals businesses ‘in for free’.

The former businesses generate EBITDA of $25bn which is valued on 10x would amount to the current enterprise value of $250bn. The latter three business units account for around 60% of the company’s profits and if accorded even a modest valuation (say 5x EBITDA) would crystallise upside of around 80% in the share price.

Third Point are arguing for nothing short of a breakup of the company in order to realise this value and whilst they may or may not be successful, their action has demonstrated the potential inherent value that exists in the business.


A similar argument can be made for UK telecom operator Vodafone, although estimating what the constituent parts of Vodafone are worth is made considerably easier by the fact that certain parts of their business are listed (Vantage, Vodacom, Safaricom, Vodafone Idea and Indus Towers).

Adjusting for these quoted assets, we can see how the stub is being valued and at today’s prices, it trades on around 4x EV/EBITDA and a 25% free cash flow yield.

With the stakes in Vantage and Vodacom accounting for 60% of the equity value of Vodafone, there would appear to be a reasonable underpinning of the valuation of the residual business.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.