Are these today’s top contrarian buys? Halfords Group plc, Bovis Homes Group plc & Sports Direct International plc

The brutal sell off seen across the market on Friday and Monday slashed the prices of companies whose shares were in strong demand just a few days earlier.

Is this a fair reflection of the value of these companies, or has the selloff created some bargains? In this article I’ll take a closer look at three potential buying opportunities.

A bargain housebuilder?

Will the housing market crash, or will strong demand for new homes support prices? In my view the situation is quite finely balanced. The risk is that a small fall in prices could cause potential buyers to withdraw from the market. This could create the conditions for a slump, even if the economy remains stable.

However, it’s quite possible that strong demand, cheap mortgages and government support will keep the housing market moving. In that case Bovis Homes Group (LSE: BVS) could be a bargain. The housebuilder’s shares have fallen by 28% since last Thursday.

At a share price of 680p, Bovis now trades below its tangible net asset value of 714p per share.  The shares also look cheap relative to forecast earnings. Bovis now trades on a 2016 forecast P/E of 6.3 with a prospective yield of 6.4%. These factors should provide some support for Bovis shares and could attract buyers, as long as the housing market does remain stable.

Ultimately, it’s your choice.

A safer option?

I suspect people are more likely to delay a house purchase than they are to delay the purchase of a new bicycle or a car repair.

If I’m right, then Halfords Group (LSE: HFD) could be attractive. The retailer’s share price has fallen by 19% since last Thursday, to around 320p. This puts Halfords on a forecast P/E of 9.8 for the current year.

In my view, that’s low enough to reflect the risk of a year or two of flat sales. It’s worth remembering that Halfords had net debt of just £48m at the end of last year. The group generated £45m of free cash flow last year, comfortably covering its £32.4m dividend payout.

Halfords’ strong finances should help to protect shareholders if the market does slow. This year’s dividend is expected to be 17.4p per share, giving a yield of 5.4%. In my opinion, Halfords may be worth a closer look.

A better retail choice?

Halfords’ cycle business could come under pressure if consumer spending falls. But I suspect the affordable sports and leisure wear sold by Sports Direct International (LSE: SPD) will remain popular whatever happens.

Sports Direct shares fell hard last week. Despite a modest rebound, they are still hovering around the 300p mark. That puts the retailer on a forecast P/E of just 8.5 for this year. Although Sports Direct doesn’t pay a dividend, the group’s balance sheet has very little debt. Cash generation has historically been strong.

One risk is that most of the group’s purchases are denominated in US dollars. The fall in the value of the pound will cause costs to rise. However, analysts expect Sports Direct’s profits to be flat this year. I suspect the currency risk has now largely been priced into the shares.

Sports Direct could be a smart contrarian buy, if you’re not bothered about a dividend.

Our top retail pick

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