Of all of the insights I've heard over these few crazy months, the most telling came from an investor who appeared on CNBC last fall, advising in all seriousness, "There are only two positions to be in right now: cash and fetal."

Even with the recent rally, it's ugly out there. Many companies that overleveraged their balance sheets are permanently impaired and will probably never fully rebound -- exploding giants  such as AIG (NYSE:AIG)  and Citigroup (NYSE:C) 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 selloffs indiscriminately throw the good out with the bad. The frenzy over financial markets and the "sell-now-ask-questions-later" mood of global investors are giving bargain-hunting investors the kind of opportunities 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 PE Ratio


Expected Growth Rate

Dividend Yield

CAPS Rating  
(5 Max)

Gannett (NYSE:GCI)






ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)






ChesapeakeEnergy (NYSE:CHK)






Data from Yahoo! Finance and Motley Fool CAPS, as of May 21. 

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

Call me crazy
I might be completely off my rocker with this one, but Gannett could be an interesting opportunity for adventurous investors seeking a contrarian bonanza.

Earlier this year, my Foolish colleague John Rosevear challenged investors to ignore the noise around General Motors (NYSE:GM) and take a closer look at Ford (NYSE:F). He suggested that a best-of-breed company in an otherwise pitiful industry can produce a compelling risk-reward situation. Ford shares tripled in value soon afterwards, so he was surely on to something.

Gannett is a similar story. The newspaper industry is little better than a dead man walking. Yet Gannett's relatively diverse business model and niche spot with USA Today, still in demand at hotels, has left it profitable. Furthermore, its debt, although frighteningly heavy, appears to be stable. As CAPS member HeloJim writes:

The bad news is out. The credit rating has been downgraded to junk territory, the dividend has been cut, we know the industry has been in decline, [ad] revenues have been killed, the internet has stolen customers and the company took huge write-downs of goodwill in 2008. Everyone sees that.

With all that, this company is still profitable. Their debt structure is stable, competitors are teetering on the brink and cost reduction efforts are improving margins. As the recession ends and add revenues start returning, their profits will look very attractive. … Their TV stations have held up fine during the recession and they've done a good job developing their online business. Management has also prioritized debt retirement so don't expect the dividend to return, but as debt is reduced this stock will get noticed.

The upside here is that shares currently trade at just more than three times forward earnings. If management can successfully finagle its debt and ride out the recession, investors are looking at an insanely undervalued stock. If not, well, all bets are off. This one ain't for the wusses.                                              

Big Oil isn't dead
Now we turn to ExxonMobil. With signs of lukewarm life emerging from a tattered economy, betting on an eventual energy rebound is close to a sure thing. This is particularly true since cheap sources of traditional energy waylaid alternative energy's appeal and viability. As CAPS member ClayinChina writes:

I have to admit, I'm not a fan of big oil. I desperately want clean energy to dominate the future of the world. And I don't agree with Exxon's evaluation that the world will still be vastly [dependent] on oil and coal in 2050. But, in 2010? 2015, or even 2025? I think Exxon will continue to be profitable and only more profitable as they use their massive cash holdings to continue dominating the oil business. And oil is going to go back up in price. Sooner, rather than later.

Nor is natural gas
Last but not least, Chesapeake Energy is another high-quality company that was ravaged (perhaps unfairly) by the commodity bust, but could quickly regain its appeal in a global rebound and inflationary environment. CAPS member Namirius wrote in March:

Short term production cuts should not distract you from the fact that this is a nicely growing, good reserve, high know-how resource company. They might profit from Obama's approach to energy politics. The high hedge ratio should allow them to operate profitable despite low prices.

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

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. The Fool has a disclosure policy.