Six months ago Jim Cramer told investors that the railroad stocks were about to go off the rails. Since then, the group has been slammed so hard that Cramer now suspects the torture could finally be coming to an end.
"Some of the railroad stocks are starting to look attractive here, although there is no rush to buy them, and ideally, you should wait for the next marketwide sell-off before you pull the trigger," the "Mad Money" host said.
Railroad companies have been struggling with both secular and cyclical declines in many of their largest cargo loads, such as coal and oil. During the shale boom, oil producers were willing to ship vast amounts of crude by train because there was not enough pipeline capacity.
Needless to say, with the price of oil reaching $30 at the same time that many new pipelines have been built, railroad businesses have been crushed to the point where yields are beginning to look attractive again.
"The more aggressive of you can start at a little more than 3 percent yield … I will bless it as long as you don't buy in one fell swoop and you get a green light from the Fed in the form of a benign statement tomorrow," Cramer said.
At CSX, coal and oil accounted for 39.7 percent of the company's total 2014 revenue, and the stock has declined 42.2 percent from its peak in 2014 to Monday. Norfolk Southern was 34.8 percent coal and oil in 2014, and its stock is down more than 42 percent from its peak.
"The declines in the railroad stocks exceed their combined coal and oil exposure from back in 2014 when the two cargoes were in much better shape," Cramer said.
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With the stocks trading as if the entire business is about to disappear, Cramer thinks it is unlikely that any of the railroads will see coal and energy revenue drop to zero anytime soon.
Additionally, all of the stocks have become accidental high yielders, with dividend rates above 3 percent. Cramer found that the value that these stocks represent could be very attractive.
Another positive is that with the expansion of the Panama Canal, which is due to be completed in the summer, the largest tanker ships will be able to easily pass to the Atlantic Ocean from the Pacific and up to the East Coast. That could trigger a huge boost in transporting intermodal cargo via railroad.
"While I am much more positive in the group, there is no reason to buy tons of stock immediately. No forced bottom-calling. You can take your time to leg into these stocks slowly into weakness, using their dividends to tell you exactly when to pull the trigger," Cramer said.
For example, Cramer suggested building a position when a company has a 3.5 percent yield. For CSX, that would be at $20.57; for Union Pacific, that is at $62.86; and for Norfolk Southern, that is $67.43.
So, after being hammered mercilessly for the past year, Cramer thinks the railroad stocks have finally come down enough to represent decent value.