The Best Stocks for the Next 4 Years

After the bear market seemed to be surely over, the market has once again been slowly spiraling back down.

Are we heading for a double dip? Are stocks going to quickly reverse and continue an upward trend?

We can't be sure just yet. But some analysts, including PIMCO's Mohamed El-Erian, believe that the rally is over, and that "valuations are ahead of fundamentals." Most of the top economists at the Davos convention a few months back -- including Nouriel Roubini -- agreed that meaningful economic growth will be extremely slow over the next few years.

It's safe to say that negativity still abounds
The late Sir John Templeton called scenarios like the one we've been experiencing "points of maximum pessimism." He also taught that such moments are the best times to buy -- and he practiced what he preached.

When World War II began, and stocks started to fall, Templeton borrowed $10,000 and invested it in 104 companies whose shares were trading for less than $1 -- including 34 that were in bankruptcy. Four years later, he sold his positions for $40,000, booking a 300% gain on stocks the market thought were doomed.

With his example in mind, I believe the pessimism still lurking around continues to signal a buying opportunity.

Stocks to profit from pessimism
We should be buying stocks that, like Templeton's initial bet on pessimism, could become double- or triple-baggers in the four or so years coming out of this bear market.

We know that the top stocks since the last recession began were mostly small caps -- albeit with a few mid-cap rock stars like Apple mixed in. (Though investors in this company shouldn't be fooled -- as the third-largest company by market cap in the S&P 500, it likely won't be the top stock for the coming decade.)

Among other things, small companies can more quickly and efficiently cut costs and streamline operations than their larger peers, which maintain employees and resources scattered throughout the country and the world.

But which companies have outperformed since the end of that bear market? I ran a screen to see what kinds of companies were double-, triple-, or even-better-baggers as the recession receded. And sure enough, the best-performing companies over the following four years were all small caps:

Company

4-Year Return
From Oct. 9, 2002

Oct. 9, 2002, Market Capitalization
(in Millions)

American Tower

5,137%

$139

YFP

2,857%

$434

Research In Motion

2,422%

$705

Bancolombia

2,067%

$203

WESCO International

2,054%

$142

Corning

1,890%

$1,173

Crown Castle International

1,830%

$373

AES

1,767%

$597

Coldwater Creek

1,670%

$131

McDermott International

1,616%

$232

Data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

This list merely shows the top 10, but it's also true that small caps as a whole outperformed their larger brethren coming out of the last bear market, and this phenomenon wasn't unique to that situation. According to T. Rowe Price research, small-cap stocks led the market out of the past 10 recessions, posting an average 28% gain, versus the 19% gain for large caps in the year following the market's recovery.

Given this data, I ran a screen to see which small caps were dirt cheap right now -- and poised to benefit as the market recovers.

I looked for companies whose stocks were down more than 25% during the past month, and which were trading with price-to-earnings ratios below that of the S&P 500 -- qualities I believe could make for Templeton-sized gains over the next four years. And to filter out the stocks that deserve to be down, and might therefore be "value traps," I looked for companies with an Altman Z-Score of more than 3, indicating that the company is not in severe, near-term financial distress.

Here are six companies from that screen. Though they are not formal recommendations, they are excellent places to begin further research.

Company

Market Capitalization

P/E Ratio

Syms (Nasdaq: SYMS  )

$105 million

12.6

NIVS IntelliMedia Technology Group (AMEX: NIV  )

$123 million

4.0

Deer Consumer Products (Nasdaq: DEER  )

$276 million

14.3

Force Protection (Nasdaq: FRPT  )

$312 million

13.3

STEC (Nasdaq: STEC  )

$610 million

9.6

Atwood Oceanics (NYSE: ATW  )

$1.8 billion

7.1

Data from Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

All in the family
So if, like me, you're looking for the best stocks to carry your portfolio out of this bear market and into wealthy pastures in four years' time, you need to look for small, cheap companies like those above -- and like those we search for to add to our Motley Fool Hidden Gems portfolio.

One official recommendation that we recently recommended -- and put real money behind -- is Jinpan International (NYSE: JST  ) , a Chinese electric company that the market hasn't been too kind to. But we think there's opportunity that will pay off for patient investors.

Hidden Gems is outperforming the market substantially since inception -- and now, advisors Andy Cross and Seth Jayson are building a real-money portfolio of their best small-cap ideas. If you'd like more insight into our favorite small-cap stocks right now, try out the service with a 30-day free trial. Click here to get started absolutely free -- there's no obligation to subscribe.

Already subscribe to Hidden Gems? Log in at the top of this page.

This article was originally published Sept. 5, 2008. It has been updated.

Adam J. Wiederman owns no shares of the stocks mentioned above. Jinpan International is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Apple and Atwood Oceanics are Stock Advisor selections. The Motley Fool owns shares of Jinpan. The Motley Fool's bold disclosure policy is here.


Read/Post Comments (2) | Recommend This Article (16)

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 30, 2010, at 12:23 AM, CatTrades wrote:

    Good word. I like NIV myself, but I liked it before it has been beaten up a bit. I am almost in the position to add more to my position; therefore, I hope it rides low for a few more weeks.

    The secondary offering is done, and strong earnings are expected to continue in the future. Good luck with your fundamental analysis. I recommend following the deviation between earnings credited by receivables and those that are written off as uncollectable. IMHO, this is a very important check to make with values that may be "too good to be true".

  • Report this Comment On June 01, 2010, at 12:49 AM, mikeembs wrote:

    This is a good one

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