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Value

TravelCenters of America LLC (TA - Snapshot Report) is seeing improvement in the economy as more truckers stop at its centers. This Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy), however, is dirt cheap. It has a forward P/E of just 7.8.

TravelCenters of America operates (surprise, surprise) 235 travel centers in 41 U.S. states and in Canada under the brands TravelCenters of America, TA, and Petro.

The centers sell gasoline, operate restaurants, provide truck repair facilities, operate stores and offer other services for travelers.

TravelCenters Beat in the Fourth Quarter By 76%

On Mar 15, TravelCenters reported its fourth quarter results and blew by the Zacks Consensus by 29 cents. However, the company still saw a loss of 9 cents compared to the consensus which was calling for a larger loss of 38 cents. It was the fifth straight earnings surprise.

The company's net loss of $2.5 million was a big improvement from a year ago, which showed a loss of $27.6 million due to increases in fuel and nonfuel sales and a reduction in rent. Nonfuel sales rose 10% compared to the fourth quarter of 2010.

TravelCenters saw improving conditions in the trucking industry in the fourth quarter, which is a reflection of the gradual improvement in the overall economy.

However, TravelCenters was cautious on the sustainability of the economic recovery.

Zacks Consensus Estimates for 2012 Hold Firm

Since the report, there haven't been any changes in the 2012 Zacks Consensus Estimate. It is calling for 83 cents per share, as it has been the last 90 days.

This is actually an earnings decline of 15% from 2011 when it made 98 cents.

However, things are looking up in 2013. One estimate was revised higher in the last week, pushing the Zacks Consensus up to $1.72 from $1.42. That is earnings growth of 107.2%.

Still a Cheap Stock

When I last looked at TravelCenters last November, it was a cheap stock, with a forward P/E of 7.6. The story remains the same four months later.

It is still trading with an extremely low P/E ratio of just 7.7.

Its other valuations, including price-to-book and price-to-sales ratios, are low. Its price-to-book is 0.6. A P/B ratio under 3.0 usually means a company has value.

Its P/S ratio is a nonexistent 0.02. A P/S under 1.0 can mean a company is undervalued.

Unlike many stocks in 2012, shares haven't done much in 2012. Investors are showing caution.

TravelCenters is a play on an improving U.S. economy. It's also a cheap value stock.

Tracey Ryniec is the Value Stock Strategist for Zacks.com. She is also the Editor of the Turnaround Trader and Insider Trader services. You can follow her on twitter at @TraceyRyniec.

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