If Ben Graham or some other proud, dearly departed purveyor of brick-by-brick, fundamental analysis were to emerge from the great beyond and dial up, say, this chart of the market's action over the last year, you could hardly blame the venerable value hound for scratching his head and saying, "Hey there, youngster! What's with this Facebook thing I keep hearing so much about?"

Irrationality is painful -- and painfully boring. And when you have a passion for investing (as opposed to speculation), your capacity for patience is sometimes trumped by an impulse to throw up your hands and make other time-occupying arrangements while the market finds its proverbial bottom, comes to its senses, and revives an apparently moribund interest in corporate fundamentals as opposed to, say, big macroeconomic attacks.

Just don't do it
Still, as great investors like Graham have always known and taught, the time to go stock shopping is when you can buy quality on the cheap. Which is precisely where we seem to be, if the chart I linked to above is any indication.

The chart's big-picture story is of a market gripped by fear and panic. A closer look, however, reveals that that particular dynamic was accompanied by a proverbial flight not to quality (as represented by the large-cap-dominated S&P 500's anemic red line) but rather to the seemingly riskier little fish that comprise the Russell 2000 (represented in royal blue).

Virtually everything has tanked over the last year, of course. But in relative terms, small caps have trumped the big boys. That's surprising enough in the aggregate, but it's positively shocking when you dig into particular names.

Consider, for example, the following grade-A lineup -- rock-solid companies with financial strength, ample free cash flow, and long-haul track records of overachievement -- and how they've fared relative to both the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 for the past 12 months.


+/- S&P 500

+/- Russell 2000

Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT)



Schlumberger (NYSE:SLB)



Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B)



UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH)



Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN)






Honeywell (NYSE:HON)



That's a hit list of companies that, in my view, strike the right profile for folks in search of a clutch of companies to use as the centerpiece of their portfolios. That's particularly true for Fools who may be closing in on retirement and wondering how they're going to glue their nest eggs back together before their permanent tee time comes around. The upside potential of these titans relative to their downside risk -- at least in terms of these companies' currently attractive valuation profiles -- seems Goldilocks perfect.

My, what big market caps you have
Still, it certainly pays to mix it up when designing your portfolio, diversifying across the market's valuation spectrum and its cap ranges as well. Indeed, if the recent history charted by my Fool colleague Ilan Moscovitz holds true, small caps may have more room to run when the economy finally turns the corner.

The good news, of course, is that investing is not an either/or proposition -- and that fundamental analysis isn't dead. Once you've settled on the asset-allocation breakdown that works for you -- i.e., the right ratios of stocks to bonds, large caps to small, international to domestic -- your best bet is to fill in that personalized pie chart with vehicles that sport attributes similar to those I called out above in connection with our magnificent seven: companies that are firing on all fundamental cylinders as evidenced by robust financial health -- and wealthy long-term shareholders.

We're working hard
At the Fool's Ready-Made Millionaire, we've designed a five-star portfolio that matches the profile sketched above -- a lineup comprising a power trio of world-class mutual funds, an undervalued ETF, and four individual stocks that we think will whip up on the market over the next three to five years and beyond. The Fool itself has invested a million bucks of its own capital in our Ready-Made selections, and starting next Tuesday, you'll be able to as well.

That's the day we'll reopen Ready-Made Millionaire to new members, who'll be able to emulate our set-and-forget lineup at prices that, thanks to the market's irrational despair, are even more attractive that when we invested last July. Click here to be notified when our doors swing wide again -- and to snag our special 11-Minute Millionaire special report as an immediate download now.

Hope to see you Tuesday!

Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Ready-Made Millionaire and doesn't own any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and UnitedHealth. Berkshire, UnitedHealth, and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor and Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy.