Of all insight I've heard over these few crazy months, the most telling came from an investor who appeared on CNBC last fall and, being entirely serious, advised, "There're only two positions to be in right now: cash, and fetal."

I get it. Even with the recent rally, it's ugly out there. Many companies that overleveraged their balance sheets are permanently impaired and will likely never fully rebound -- banks come to mind. We had an unprecedented boom; now we're in the middle of an unprecedented bust. That's how markets work.

Even so, history tells us time and time again that market panics and forced sell-offs indiscriminately throws the good out with the bad. Amid the frenzy over financial markets and the "sell-now-ask-questions-later" mood of global investors, opportunities are being created for bargain-hunting investors like we haven't seen in decades.

Using the wisdom of our 130,000-member-strong CAPS community, I've hunted down a few dirt-cheap, high-quality companies. Have a look:


Recent Share Price

Forward P/E Ratio

5-Year Expected Growth Rate

TTM Return on Equity

Dividend Yield

CAPS Rating  
(out of 5)








Johnson & Johnson







Western Union







Data from Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool CAPS, and Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's. *Return on assets: more appropriate for a debt-heavy company.

All three are well-established, large-cap stocks. Let's break down the bullish argument for each one.

Betting on a sure thing
When will the economy turn? No one knows. Will stocks rebound this year? Your guess is as good as any. Will swine flu wipe out the universe? You're asking the wrong guy.

Will baby boomers age and increasingly rely on affordable health care? That question anyone can answer comfortably, and it's a resounding yes.

That's why some investors look at the valuation at UnitedHealth and scratch their heads. Sure, commercial-based plans are tanking as unemployment creeps higher, but Medicare and Medicaid memberships continue to grow at the company. Amid an otherwise terrible environment for insurers, this could be a seriously big bright spot for UnitedHealth. As CAPS member zephyribilly wrote earlier this year:

Probably the most well-positioned company for benefiting from the huge number of people entering Medicare eligibility. AARP, which knows something about this emerging audience, has bet on United for a while now, as the carrier behind their supplements, Part D and Medicare Advantage (HMO) plans.

Valuation wise, shares trade at a pitiful 7.3 times forward earnings. Growth has clearly slowed in recent years, but that fact is completely -- if not overly -- baked into the share price.

Great company, great price
Another health stock beaten down to the depths of value land is Johnson & Johnson. With shares down almost 25% in the past year, the maker of everything from Band-Aids to Tylenol now has a dividend yield approaching 4%. Not unlike UnitedHealth, a steady demographic shift of aging baby boomers with an increasing demand for quality health services bodes well for this company. As CAPS member ServusDei recently wrote:

Although the P/E above 10 is a bit less than ideal, this company has great profit margin, good dividend, and spend less on R&D (research and development) than [Merck (NYSE:MRK)] and [Pfizer (NYSE:PFE)], which means that it is less dependent on new breakthrough technology to keep its competitive advantage.

The big upside here is the fat dividend. A 3.9% yield is pretty spectacular for a company with the stability, predictability, and long-term growth prospects that J&J provides.

Keep the payments comin'
Amid the barrage of swine flu news coverage, I recently heard a staggering statistic: Money transfers are Mexico's second largest legal source of foreign income, second only to oil.

That got me thinking about the long-term importance of Western Union. With shares down 26% over the past year while net income actually increased year-over-year, much of this stock's decline might be caused by a misconception familiar to Visa (NYSE:V) and MasterCard (NYSE:MA): Technology and consumer companies are often unfairly mistaken as finance companies.

Your turn to chime in
Have your own views on any of these three? More than 130,000 investors use CAPS to share ideas and swap opinions. Click here to check it out and speak your mind. It's 100% free to participate.

Further Foolishness:                                                                   

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. UnitedHealth Group and Western Union are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. Pfizer, UnitedHealth Group, and Western Union are Inside Value recommendations. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of UnitedHealth Group and has a disclosure policy.