Today is the first day that the markets are open for 2006, and for many investors and companies, it's an opportunity to begin anew. For example, my New Year's resolution is to get in shape. I need to get my rear to the gym tomorrow, and three days a week every week, in hopes of shedding 10 pounds, or at least keep this pesky weight gain in check.

Ahh, but unfortunately, things like competition, economic cycles, and investor psychology don't operate on our nice, neat solar calendar. Nor do they follow companies' fiscal calendars. The result is that some companies are not starting 2006 on an optimistic note. In fact, a number of companies have started off the year by trading at prices lower than they have in the past year. Are any of these laggard stocks a buy? The trick to successful investing is separating the companies that have temporary problems and cycles from those that have long-term competitive problems. I've selected the stocks of five companies off today's low list to see which of these two categories they belong in.

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has been making new lows with regularity for the past few months, and the company does have a fair amount of competition coming from Verizon (NYSE:VZ) and the other baby Bells. In addition, the company faces a long-term threat from services such as Apple Computer's iTunes that deliver video over the Internet, something that is still in its infancy now. Expanding its network is also capital-intensive for Comcast. But let's not forget that Comcast is a well-run company and, not surprisingly, it's beginning to look cheap here, particularly if capital expenditures begin to slow.

Motley Fool Income Investor selection H.J. Heinz (NYSE:HNZ) earns the dubious distinction of not only hitting new lows, but of also being one of the few Income Investor selections to lag the market more than a year after being selected. Heinz is certainly not a fast grower, but its 3.6% yield appears very safe, and I think the company's strategy of focusing more of its business on sauces will eventually bear fruit.

Pier 1 Imports (NYSE:PIR) is a tough nut to crack. Because the company has suffered for so long, it's basically due for a turnaround. Unfortunately, there haven't been any signs that a turnaround is imminent, and the company's cash hoard has been in decline as inventory continues to increase. On the bright side, the company carries a hefty 4.6% dividend yield. If the company's results for the next quarter show that its dividend is fully funded by the last 12 months of free cash flow, the stock may be worth consideration. However, investors should tread carefully here as competitor Cost Plus (NASDAQ:CPWM) and numerous furniture retailers have struggled over the last year.

Chicken producers Pilgrim's Pride (NYSE:PPC) and Sanderson Farms (NASDAQ:SAFM) round out our list, and both were already cheap before today's earnings warning cost Pilgrim's Pride more than 20% of its market cap and Sanderson over 3% of its. The pricing environment looks tough for all the companies in the chicken industry, but as my colleague Stephen Simpson pointed out this morning, Sanderson Farm's business doesn't have the export dependency that Pilgrim's Pride does.

None of these companies are a slam dunk to turn things around in the near term, but I think Heinz, Sanderson Farms, and Pilgrims Pride will eventually recover, while the competitive forces for Comcast and, to a greater extent Pier 1, look harder to overcome. However, none of them is in danger of going out of business any time soon, and history shows that buying the beaten-up and downtrodden often beats buying the high flyers in the long term, particularly if there is a substantial dividend yield in place, as well. In fact, that's the very strategy that John Neff used to post 30 years of market-beating performance at the Windsor Fund.

For related Foolish bargain hunting:

H.J. Heinz is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. For a 30-day risk-free trial, click here.

Nathan Parmelee has no financial stake in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.