Is This the Cheapest Stock You Can Buy?

Let me get this out right up front: I own a whole bunch of Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) stock. I don't run a particularly concentrated portfolio, but Mr. Softy is among my largest holdings.

The "why" of the matter is simply that I think the stock is too cheap to not own. With a decent, growing 2.6% dividend and the current forward price-to-earnings ratio of 8.4, even a quick glance at Microsoft's stock should get a value investor's wheels turning.

It's not that I'm oblivious to the concerns that some readers are no doubt shouting at their computer screen right now. Apple (NAS: AAPL) and Google (NAS: GOOG) are kicking Microsoft's butt in the mobile market. Tablet PCs based on ARM's (NAS: ARMH) architecture are challenging the desktop market at the low end. And of course Google has been steadily trying to chip away at the core desktop and productivity product lines.

Oh, yeah, and apparently Steve Ballmer is a complete knucklehead.

On the other hand, there are some truly astounding ways to look at just how cheap Microsoft is. The forward P/E of 8.4 that I just mentioned is certainly one of them. If you back out the $4.45 in net cash per share from Microsoft's balance sheet, that forward P/E drops to a hair under 7. Over the past 12 months, Microsoft churned out $2.87 in free cash flow per share, which means that if it paid out, say, 90% of its cash flow as a dividend, the stock would have a 10.2% dividend yield. For all of this you might expect that Microsoft was already in its death throes, but the company's operating income has grown 9% per year over the past five years and 11% over the past 12 months.

A little help from my friends
One of the more dangerous cognitive biases that investors can run into is the confirmation bias. This insidious mental malfunction leads investors to seek out only evidence that jibes with the conclusions that they already have.

With that in mind, there's nothing wrong with recognizing when there's some evidence that you're on the right track. I got a bit of that feeling when I saw that during the second quarter, famed short-seller David Einhorn made a significant addition to his stake in Microsoft while deep-value investor Seth Klarman initiated a big position in his Baupost Fund. The stock is a top-three holding for both funds. Jeremy Grantham's investment managed company Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo also added during the quarter, though the 3.5 million new shares didn't significantly up the fund's already-sizeable $1.5 billion stake.

Certainly, just because their names are said in hushed tones, that doesn't mean that these investors are definitely on to a winner in Microsoft -- if you need evidence of that, just check out where Bruce Berkowitz and John Paulson are with their Bank of America (NYS: BAC) investments. However, particularly with the entry of value-hound Klarman, I'm feeling ever more bullish about Microsoft.

Want to tell me just how crazy I am? That's what the comments section is for.

At the time this article was published The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Bank of America.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft and creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors.Fool contributorMatt Koppenhefferowns shares of Microsoft and Bank of America but has no financial interest in any of the other companies mentioned. You can check out what Matt is keeping an eye on by visiting hisCAPS portfolio, or you can follow Matt on Twitter at@KoppTheFoolor onFacebook. The Fool'sdisclosure policyprefers dividends over a sharp stick in the eye.

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