Are Glencore plc and Tesco plc the FTSE’s top recovery buys?

Can Glencore plc (LON:GLEN) and Tesco plc (LON:TSCO) recover to 2015 levels or do further problems lie ahead?

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Shares in commodity giant Glencore (LSE: GLEN) have risen by about 50% so far in 2016, but remain about 50% lower than they were one year ago. Investors appear to be unsure whether to buy or sell the shares, which are among the most heavily traded in the UK.

However, the latest figures suggest to me that decent value might still be available for investors with longer timeframes. One of the secrets behind Glencore’s rapid bounce-back has been that the firm’s trading division has delivered very stable profits.

Operating profit from what Glencore calls marketing activities fell from $2,790m to $2,464m last year. In contrast, operating profit from industrial activities — mainly mining — fell from $3,916m to a loss of $292m.

Glencore’s continued resurgence will require a recovery in mining profits, plus further reductions in debt levels. We may have to wait a little longer to find out how the recent rises in commodity prices have affected Glencore’s mining profits, but debt reduction has been impressive.

In April, Glencore announced the sale of a 40% stake in its agricultural business for $2.5bn. This was the latest in a stream of big asset sales. Glencore’s plan to reduce net debt from $25.9bn to $17bn to $18bn in 2016 seems credible to me.

Earnings forecasts for both 2016 and 2017 have also started to rise, following recent commodity price gains. Forecast net profit for 2016 has risen by $85m to $698m over the last month.

Miners are emerging from the bottom of a deep crash. I suspect profits may continue to rise for several years. A return to 2014 profit levels would put Glencore shares on a P/E of less than 10, for example. I believe Glencore may be worth a closer look.

Is director buying a signal?

Shares in Tesco (LSE: TSCO) have fallen by almost 20% since the firm’s 2015/16 results were published on 13 April.

They weren’t a bad set of figures as sales rose, despite widespread price cutting. Both volumes and transaction numbers rose by about 3% during the firm’s fourth quarter, suggesting that customers may be returning to the retailer. Net debt was also down significantly, from £8.5bn to £5.1bn.

The problem is that it’s not clear how far Tesco’s profits will recover, or how long it will take. Tough competition means that profit margins are expected to remain lower for the foreseeable future, while big gains in market share seem unlikely.

One person who should have a good understanding of how Tesco’s turnaround may unfold is its chairman, John Allan.

Mr Allan has an impressive record in turnaround situations. He’s also been a regular buyer of Tesco shares and bonds since his appointment in 2015. A quick calculation suggests he now has holdings worth more than £600,000.

His most recent buys were in April, when he bought 30,000 shares and a further £90,000 worth of Tesco bonds. My calculations suggest that Mr Allan’s holding of Tesco shares is currently in the red, but I don’t imagine he expects to lose money over the long term.

Tesco’s turnaround has always been a long-term project. The stock looks fully priced for the next year or two, but I suspect that anyone buying at current levels could eventually see a decent profit.

Should you invest, the value of your investment may rise or fall and your capital is at risk. Before investing, your individual circumstances should be assessed. Consider taking independent financial advice.

Roland Head owns shares of Tesco. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.

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