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Avon surges on positive comments from longtime value investor Bill Miller

Key Points
  • Bill Miller, the venerable portfolio manager, says the most interesting stock he's added recently was Avon.
  • Shares of the beauty company's stock surged more than 20 percent immediately after his comments.
  • Miller also says he bought shares of Avon rival Coty, which unsuccessfully tried tried to buy Avon for $10 billion in 2012.
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Bill Miller says there's a very interesting risk-reward on Avon

Bill Miller, the venerable portfolio manager, told CNBC on Thursday the most interesting stock he's added recently was Avon Products, and the beauty company's stock surged more than 20 percent immediately after his comments.

Shares of Avon closed at $2.34 each for a market value of around $1 billion, a far cry from its all-time per-share highs in the mid-$40s in 2004.

"Avon was at a 70-year low at $1.95 or something like that; brand new management all up and down, a couple hundred million [dollars] in free cash flow, the proper strategy now for the first time in years, if not decades," Miller told CNBC's Brian Sullivan on "Squawk on the Street."

"We think it's a company that could be a 10 bagger in the next three to five years," said Miller, meaning he believes the stock could be 10 times higher over the period. "They sold the U.S. division off so it's basically an emerging markets play. I don't like to use the word 'play,' but emerging markets opportunity."

Miller also pointed to an Avon announcement Wednesday of a 15 percent inventory reduction and write-off as well as a 10 percent global workforce cut.

Miller, a star money manager at Legg Mason for decades, is best known for beating the S&P 500 for 15 consecutive years through 2005. His track record more recently, particularly during the financial crisis, has been up and down. In 2016, he went out on his own, forming Miller Value Partners.

Miller also told CNBC Thursday he was buying a personal position, not in the funds of Miller Value Partners, in Avon rival Coty at around $8 per share. Coty had tried to buy Avon for $10 billion in 2012. But Avon rejected the takeover offer.

Coty stock was also soaring on Miller's comments to the tune of about 6 percent in late Thursday morning trading. He said "most of the damage has been done" on Coty, which has plunged about 60 percent in the past 12 months.

Private equity group JAB Holding is Coty's largest shareholder. "They bought every share that was available in blocks around $8.50 each, "Miller said.

Earlier this month, Miller told CNBC that his Miller Opportunity Trust fund is "off to a very strong start this year," after having a "pretty bad" 2018.

In 2017, Miller he bought two mutual funds that he started at Legg Mason. The bigger of the two is Miller Opportunity Trust, which beat the S&P 500 that year. But the fund trailed the index by about 6 percentage points last year.