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Traders speak on telephones while working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)
Traders speak on telephones while working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)


10 cheapest U.S. stocks with best growth potential Add to ...

5. Whole Foods Market has turned in a lackluster performance over the past three months, with the shares down 6 per cent, trailing the food-and-staples industry by over 7 per cent. Investors, concerned about the sluggish economy, have avoided the company.

But the news has been good, as the company issued a bright outlook for the remainder of 2011. At first glance, the shares don't look cheap. Based on the expectations from management for $1.87-$1.90 EPS for 2011, the stock trades at a P/E multiple of roughly 32 times 2011 earnings. But Bank of America-Merrill Lynch analysts argue the stock looks attractive and maintain a $68 price target.

"We believe WFM's valuation is attractive given its strategy to improve its competitive price position and enhance its cost discipline, which broadens its growth prospects and supports an outlook for improving returns while lowering the company's operating risk profile," Merrill analysts say.

TheStreet Ratings has a slightly more optimistic $77 price target on shares of Whole Foods Markets. Note that the shares jumped $4 on Tuesday, based on upbeat comments from the company's CEO, who said the natural-foods grocer is gaining market share and he is "feeling pretty bullish" about Whole Foods' future. Despite the gain, I would still consider an investment.

6. Mediware Information Systems , which has a market value of $88-million, sells blood- and biologics-management products and services to hospitals, surgery centers and other health-care facilities. The stock is down nearly 13 per cent in the past three months, but the company has released little news. The stock is thinly traded, with only 17,000 shares of average daily volume, and with only 8 million shares outstanding, it doesn't take much to move the needle.

Despite the drop in price, management reported impressive results in the most recent quarter, with revenue and earnings up 7 per cent and 57 per cent, respectively, from a year earlier. Mediware should continue to benefit from government stimulus money earmarked to improve health-care technology over the next few years.

CEO Kelly Mann, formerly with 3M's health-information division, has made great strides since his arrival nearly four years ago. Return on equity has improved to 10 per cent, up from the low single digits three years ago.

From a valuation standpoint, the shares look cheap, trading at just 6 times trailing EV/EBITDA and 15 times forward earnings. Plus, Mediware has no long-term debt and $30-million in cash. TheStreet Ratings has a $15 price target on Mediware.

7. Horace Mann Educators , which provides car and homeowners insurance for teachers and other educators, recently lowered its full-year profit forecast because of a spike in tornado- and storm-related disasters during April and May. Management reduced 2011 EPS guidance to $1.10-$1.30 from a previous $1.75-$1.95.

With the shares down 10 per cent over the past three months, investors might want to consider the recent dislocation as a buying opportunity. At the midrange of restated guidance, the shares are trading for 12.8 times fiscal 2011 estimates and, more importantly, at just 0.7 times book value. TheStreet Ratings has a $20 price target on Horace Mann.

8. Progress Software recently cut its outlook for the fiscal second quarter ended in May, saying execution problems at its EDS (enterprise data solutions) segment would lead to a shortfall.

Mark Schappel from Benchmark Securities (which rates Progress a "buy" with a $31 target) says the shortfall is a speed bump in the company's ongoing transformation, and not a sign of a slump in infrastructure spending.

TheStreet Ratings has a $34 price target on Progress Software.

9. Partner Communications is Israel's second-largest wireless operator, but is facing fierce competition in the industry. Recent regulatory changes in the cellular market are also a major headwind for the company. The government has implemented a massive 76 per cent cut in interconnection fees (the charges by mobile-phone operators when connecting users between networks) and lower exit penalties. The company has warned that free cash flow will likely be significantly hurt over coming quarters.

So what's there to like here? Israeli analysts at Bank Leumi believe the selloff has been overdone, saying "the market has overshot to the downside by pricing in an unreasonably pessimistic outcome to the changes in the industry."

The stock currently pays a 7.3 per cent dividend, but that could change, given the downward pressure on cash flow. Consider this a high-risk, high-reward investment. TheStreet Ratings has a $19 price target on Partner Communications.

10. Centrais Electricas Brasileiras is a Brazilian power utility and an operator of nuclear power plants.

Brazil, faced with ever-increasing power consumption, will probably shift its dependence from hydropower (currently more than 80 per cent of power) to coal and nuclear power in the future. In fact, the Brazilian government recently issued approvals for four nuclear plants in 2011. Eletrobras, which has grown revenue at an annualized 20 per cent over the past three years, should continue to benefit from increased demand. TheStreet Ratings has a $16.5 price target on Eletrobras.

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