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Should you follow directors buying shares at Barclays plc, RSA Insurance Group plc & Howden Joinery Group plc?

There’s a fair bit of indecisiveness among investors at the moment, with a number of unanswerable questions hanging in the air. Will the oil price continue its recovery? Is China heading for the skids? Which way will the Brexit referendum go?

Such questions haven’t troubled directors at Barclays (LSE: BARC), RSA Insurance (LSE: RSA) and Howden Joinery (LSE: HWDN), who have loaded up on shares in their own companies in recent days. Should you follow their lead, and back these three firms today?

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Terrific value

Barclays’ shares have lost more than a quarter of their value since new chief executive Jes Staley took up the reins on 1 December.

Yesterday, the company notified the market that Mr Staley bought 144,000 American Depository Shares (ADSs) at $9.95 a pop on Wednesday. Each ADS represents four ordinary shares, so we’re effectively looking at a 576,000 share purchase at around 170p for a total outlay of not much shy of a cool one million quid.

I have to say, the shares do look terrific value at this level, being at a 40% discount to net tangible asset value, and on a cheap earnings rating to boot. Mr Staley evidently reckons they’re a steal, because he was previously happy to invest £6.5m at 233p ahead of taking up his post.

Turnaround on track

Chief executive Stephen Hester wasted no time opening his wallet after releasing RSA Insurance’s Q1 results two weeks ago. He immediately snapped up 100,000 shares at 479.85p a time for a total outlay of £479,850. And he was followed last week by new non-executive director Martin Strobel with a £57,924 maiden purchase of 12,000 shares at 482.7p.

Mr Hester arrived at RSA in 2014 after serious irregularities in the insurer’s Irish division were unearthed. Restructuring the group and rebuilding the balance sheet hasn’t been a speedy process, but the recent Q1 results suggest the turnaround is firmly on track.

Analysts are expecting a big uplift in earnings this year, putting the company on a P/E of 15, which falls near to 12 next year on further strong forecast growth. A well-covered dividend yielding 3%, rising to 4% next year, is also on the cards, so the shares appear to offer reasonable value.

Particularly undervalued?

Three directors of Howden Joinery have bought shares this week. Richard Pennycook, who has been a non-executive director of the FTSE 250 firm since September 2013, massively upped his holding from 3,000 shares to 54,663 shares, splashing out £250,000 at 483.9p a share.

However, Mr Pennycook has just been elevated to the chairman’s role, so I’m not entirely convinced his purchase is that significant. Meanwhile, maiden buys of 3,000 shares by two other non-execs might be described as ISA-sized.

Trading on a current-year forecast P/E of above 16, with a modest dividend yield of 2.3%, and solid but unexceptional growth forecasts, I’m not sure Howden leaps out as an obviously undervalued stock.

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