With the market up more than 50% from its March lows, bargains aren't nearly as plentiful these days as they were, say, this time last year. As a result, I'm treading cautiously, putting new money to work mainly via the Fool's 401(k) plan. Through the plan, I own (and continue to invest in) Dodge & Cox International Stock (DODFX), a globetrotting fund whose storied management team has staked out sizeable positions in Novartis
The value hounds over at Fairholme (FAIRX) also get a chunk of my biweekly change. As of that fund's most recently reported portfolio, manager Bruce Berkowitz and his team have taken a shine to Pfizer
A 40% allocation to the health-care sector provides further evidence of Fairholme's best-ideas investment approach. Insurers WellPoint, WellCare Health Plans, and UnitedHealth
The through lines between these two funds and my own current approach to purchasing individual stocks is this: a focus on high-quality companies trading, even amid the market's fast and furious run-up, with very attractive valuation profiles relative to their (a) rock-solid financial health and (b) robust prospects.
Pfizer, for example, sports a price-to-earnings ratio below that of its typical pharmaceutical rival (and its own five-year average, as well), despite delivering more than $16.5 billion in free cash flow last year -- a massive increase relative to the company's showing in fiscal 2007. Novartis looks cheap, too, checking in with a below-market P/E that, as I read it, dramatically overstates the company's health-care reform and pipeline risk while failing to account (pretty much at all) for its bulletproof balance sheet. Come what may in the near term, at its current price, Novartis is positioned as a long-haul overachiever.
UnitedHealth and Nokia are similarly attractive, but as pleased as I am to own them indirectly (i.e., through the mutual funds I hold), they're not in the individual stock sleeve of my personal portfolio. In fact, with the exception of UnitedHealth, they're not even on my watch list. (Check my case for UnitedHealth here.)
Three for the road
Instead, I've got my eye on three of a kind, proverbial dollar bills that, just now, the market appears to be selling for roughly 50 cents: Paychex
According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, the individual investment cases for the members of this power trio add up to a wash: At their current prices, each trades at a steep discount to intrinsic value and earnings-growth potential. All are financially very healthy, and each boasts management teams with significant skin in the game, too. That is, their corporate honchos are your fellow investors.
Only one of these companies, though, appears among those that have made the grade with the team of Fools that runs the money at Million Dollar Portfolio. And it's real money, too, ensuring the Fool has its own skin in the game along with the service's members. Those members, in turn, are able to play along at home by matching the team's moves -- moves, by the way, that are always announced in advance of MDP's actual transactions, allowing members to trade ahead of the team if they so desire.
The envelope, please ...
That the MDP squad favors Costco has helped push that discount retailer to the top of my watch list. I also like the company's chances amid a lackluster economic environment that, in my view, will favor cheapskate tendencies and those companies whose business models, like Costco's, tap and profit from 'em.
If you'd like some assistance prioritizing your own list -- or if you'd just like a simple and smart approach to building and maintaining a complete, Foolishly vetted portfolio (one whose investors include The Motley Fool itself) -- enter your email address below and you'll be among the first to know when, for just a short while, MDP reopens to new members next month.
Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Ready-Made Millionaire and Duke Street services and owns shares of Dodge & Cox International Stock and Fairholme. Those funds are recommendations of the Fool's Champion Funds service, and the Fool owns shares of Fairholme. Pfizer is an Inside Value pick. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.