I must confess: I'm a contrarian at heart. I'm also a cheapskate.
Don't get me wrong. My wife wasn't disappointed on her birthday yesterday. I mean that I prefer stocks trading at low multiples to those with earnings growth estimates that have catapulted investor expectations to infinity and beyond.
Don't be misled: If you're the Buzz Lightyear type, you should check out National Oilwell Varco (NYSE: NOV ) and First Solar (Nasdaq: FSLR ) . Each has a five-year earnings growth forecast of 20% or higher, and a forward price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) that surpasses the broader market's average. MasterCard (NYSE: MA ) and DirecTV (Nasdaq: DTV ) make that cut, too.
If, however, you're an investor of the value persuasion, here's some good news: Companies such as Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ ) and Altria (NYSE: MO ) are currently trading with forward P/Es below that of both the S&P 500 and their own five-year averages.
That kind of valuation-to-quality profile is alluring at first glance, but there's usually more to multiples than meets the eye. Sometimes, even stocks that seem like stalwarts trade at depressed levels because, well, they're depressed.
Other times, of course, they don't. Fortunately, you don't have to be a financial pro to make big bucks by taking advantage of market inefficiencies. That can be a full-time job on its own, so it's a good thing some smart folks out there do it for a living -- successfully.
I'm talking about world-class money managers, the savvy types who run low-cost funds with battle-tested strategies and who have delivered solid performance for investors year after year. These managers, not coincidentally, generally eat their own cooking and align their interests with shareholders' by investing their own savings in the funds they run.
When it comes to mutual fund data points, there are few better indicators of quality than that.
And sleep well
Despite what you may have heard, you can beat the market and still sleep peacefully at night, with help from top-notch mutual funds. The secret is to focus on key criteria such as costs, historical performance during the current managers' tenures, and managers who put their money where their mouths are.
These are precisely the kinds of funds we seek for members of the Fool's Champion Funds investing service. As an example, one of our picks is a large-cap value specialist whose portfolio recently included eBay. Between 2000 and 2002 -- a time when the S&P shed some 37.6% of its value -- this fund racked up a gain of more than 50%. Talk about investing with a safety net!
You're welcome to give the service a spin and see whether you can put it to good use. I suspect that it'll come in handy as you seek to fund (pun intended) your financial future.
This is adapted from a Shannon Zimmerman article originally published Dec. 12, 2006. It has been updated.