What if we run right off the fiscal cliff and into the great unknown?
Perhaps more likely, what if the Grand Bargain doesn't alleviate all the expected economic pressure from a combination of rising taxes and lower government spending?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) will surely take a dive if that happens. We might be closer to the next Dow 10,000 than the Dow 14,000 if our lawmakers fail to divert the oncoming train. Most stocks will follow suit; with tax expenses on the rise and fewer and smaller government contracts incoming, you can't really blame business leaders for cutting costs and buckling down. Growth will have to wait until this storm blows over.
But one man's disaster is another's meal ticket. Sure, you can prepare for the fiscal cliff by placing bearish bets on the Dow and reducing your bullish exposure to the stock market -- but you could also find some winners on the other side.
There's a contrarian play for every scenario.
Dollar Tree (Nasdaq: DLTR ) never really suffered from the great financial panic of 2008. In fact, the discount store chain collected major dividends when American families started looking for ways to control their spending. And its stock went along for the ride:
DLTR data by YCharts. Shaded regions show U.S. recessions.
Then there's the more direct approach to exploiting a weak job market: Bet on debt collectors.
This play might be too cynical for some investors, but there's no denying the contrarian effect. Check out five-star CAPS stock Portfolio Recovery Associates (Nasdaq: PRAA ) , which has absolutely crushed the market since the housing bubble popped:
PRAA data by YCharts. Shaded regions show U.S. recessions.
The same story plays out on an enterprise scale, as well. Red Hat (NYSE: RHT ) provides low-cost alternatives to the expensive business-software tools Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) sells. Tight federal and corporate budgets lead to cost-cutting efforts, and Red Hat's tools are often easy replacements for more costly software suites. So this company absolutely loves marketwide budget pressures and has rewarded its shareholders accordingly:
RHT data by YCharts. Shaded regions show U.S. recessions.
These are just examples from a deep well of investable ideas. I'm sure you can think up a few contrarian examples of your own. Feel free to share them in the comments below!
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