Of all the 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. Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM) come to mind. We had an unprecedented boom; now we're slowly trying to claw out 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 throw the good out with the bad. The "sell-now-ask-questions-later" mood of global investors is providing bargain-hunting investors with the sort of opportunities we haven't seen in decades. Use that to your advantage.

Using the wisdom of our 140,000-member-strong CAPS community, I've hunted down a few dirt cheap, high-quality companies. Have a look:

Company

Recent Share Price

Forward P/E Ratio

5-Year Expected Growth Rate

TTM Return on Equity

Dividend Yield

CAPS Rating  
(out of 5)

Automatic Data Processing
(NYSE:ADP)

$38.61

15.38

11.38%

23.01%

3.4%

****

Consolidated Edison
(NYSE:ED)

$40.54

12.32

3.4%

6.92%

5.8%

****

Merck
(NYSE:MRK)

$32.87

9.69

3.03%

28.19%

4.6%

****

Data from Yahoo! Finance and Motley Fool CAPS, as of Aug. 27.  

Let's break down the bullish argument for each one.

A closer look at Consolidated Edison
Bracing for a pullback? Fearing a looming crash? Think your green shoot high might wear off? Consider a company like Consolidated Edison.

Sure, it's as boring as boring comes. But it's also quite stable and pays an enormous dividend of almost 6%. Safe returns of this magnitude should not be belittled in times like these. As CAPS member risenodoz wrote last fall:

Safe play, with dividend. Tri-State area is in no rush to de-regulate utilities. With liberals (most-likely) in controll of the country for the next 4-8 years, they should be a safe bet to continue to hold on to their monopoly.

A closer look at Automatic Data Processing
How much worse will unemployment get? That's what people want to know when looking at payroll processor ADP.

And no one knows, really. But a few bits of sunshine have made their way onto the stage. Weekly jobless claims are still insanely high, but look like they've peaked. July's rate of corporate "mass layoffs" was the lowest in nearly a year. Banks, hedge funds -- even Ford (NYSE:F) -- are out hiring again. Anecdotal this evidence may be, but it probably isn't a bad idea to think about what companies might benefit if, and when, unemployment stabilizes. ADP is one of them.

Some might say the 15-times-forward-eanings multiple doesn't look so cheap, but you have to put value in perspective here: ADP, along with smaller rival Paychex (NASDAQ:PAYX), both virtually control the industry, and generate staggering returns on capital. These are companies worth paying a premium for.

A closer look at Merck
Death panels! Socialism! The end of free choice! The end of the world!

These talking points are good for town hall debates and the cable news networks. They're also good for scaring the pants off of health care investors who want nothing to do with this industry until the smoke clears. That creates opportunities in companies like Merck.

Merck's pipeline also stinks, which makes the growth crowd squirm. Fair enough. But how much of these setbacks are already priced into a stock trading at nine times earnings, and spitting out a 4.6% dividend? Something close to all of it, I'd say. As CAPS member saunafool wrote last year:

no matter what happens to the economy, people are still going to take their medicine. All these companies are going to survive the turmoil better than most, and they'll still be standing, just like Elton John, 10 years from now, with compounded dividends aplenty.

Your turn to chime in
Have your own take on any of these companies? More than 140,000 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.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Paychex is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Automatic Data Processing and Paychex are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.