You know that political bumper sticker that goes, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention"? It might as well have applied to the market last year and at the start of this one. Until the recent rally, 2008-09 was a terrible, awful, and downright painful time to be an investor.
But notice how that last sentence started "until the recent rally"? Yes, stocks have rallied hard these past few weeks, proving yet again that market downturns aren't something to panic about, but are rather something to be profited from.
See, during the downturn, good -- even great -- companies were sold down to levels far below their true worth. Had you bought some of those names – Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG ) , Walgreen (NYSE: WAG ) , and IBM (NYSE: IBM ) among them -- you could be sitting on 50% or more profits year to date.
The good news is: You haven't missed every opportunity. Even after the recent run-up, some outrageous bargains remain.
A shocking and somewhat interesting statistic
But before we get to today's bargain, it's worth taking stock of where we stand. A whopping 88% of all stocks traded on the major U.S. exchanges were down in 2008. This year, 76% of all stocks are in the green. And just as quality names such as Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) had a tough 2008, more speculative names such as Sirius XM (Nasdaq: SIRI ) have had incredible runs in 2009.
You, however, should feel free to ignore the noise. If you lost money last year, don't feel bad. There was no hiding from this downturn. And if you're staying out of the market today because of the money you lost last year, do reconsider. While all stocks will be volatile, it's worth your while to stay invested.
But what should you buy today after stocks have risen so far?
Take a look at Barrett Business Services. This tiny West Coast professional-employer organization and staffing company has a strong balance sheet, has repurchased shares, and is paying shareholders a nice 3% dividend. Further, while Barrett has stayed depressed because of the jobless nature of the recent recovery, it's positioned to rise rapidly as soon as hiring improves. Finally, after backing out its $47 million in net cash, the stock is trading for just 0.3 times sales. As soon as profits return to the industry, this stock should rebound fast.
Could the stock drop further from here? Of course. But regardless of whether the market is rising or falling, it's always a good time to buy excellent companies like Barrett on the cheap. That's what we're all about at Motley Fool Hidden Gems, and even though it's gotten harder to find cheap stocks, we're still building our portfolio of small-cap bargains.
To read about the stocks we're buying today, click here.
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This article was first published Jan. 10, 2008. It has been updated.
Tim Hanson owns shares of Barrett Business Services. Costco is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Motley Fool owns shares of Costco. The Fool's disclosure policy is awesome.