It's no secret that this has been a tough market. Everyone, from professionals to amateurs, has felt the pain. When will it end? No one knows and opinions differ greatly. But what all investors can agree on is that it's more important than ever to find solid companies that can protect your portfolio against the forces of evil.

To separate the champs from the chumps, I ran a screen on CAPS, The Motley Fool's investor-intelligence database, looking for some of the best companies the market has to offer. These types of businesses could very well be the next Microsoft or Dell.

The criteria used for the search were simple:

  • I only wanted to consider stocks that are classified by our CAPS community as the best of the best. These businesses needed to have at least 500 active picks and four- or five-star ratings, the highest available.
  • Next, I wanted to make sure that the balance sheet was solid. A good way to do that is to look for businesses with debt-to-equity ratios of less than one.
  • Insider alignment with shareholders is also a critical consideration: Management should definitely have financial ties to the performance of their company. For that I required insider ownership higher than 5%.
  • Finally, a return on equity (ROE) of more than 15% is a must if you want to uncover potential market beaters. Warren Buffett believes that return on capital (ROE is a proxy when there is little debt) is key when he evaluates a company.

Here's what CAPS screen came up with. It appears to be a nice eclectic mix.

Company

Debt to Equity

Insider Ownership

Return on Equity (TTM)

Cal-Maine Foods (NASDAQ:CALM)

27%

32%

19.6%

Copart (NASDAQ:CPRT)

0%

12.5%

15.3%

Middleby (NASDAQ:MIDD)

90%

7.7%

19%

optionsXpress (NASDAQ:OXPS)

0%

7.8%

21.8%

Quality Systems (NASDAQ:QSII)

0%

34.3%

27.8%

Shengdatech (NASDAQ:SDTH)

47%

48.1%

17.6%

Stryker (NYSE:SYK)

0%

5.6%

16.8%

Data from Motley Fool Caps as of Dec 1, 2009. TTM = trailing 12 months.

Are these stocks ready to defend your portfolio or will they open it up to be plundered? Our CAPS community -- made up of some of the brightest minds around -- would like to know what you think. Sign up and give us your take on whether these stocks can defend your portfolio. It's 100% free.

Middleby is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems pick. Copart is a Rule Breakers pick. Copart, optionsXpress, and Quality Systems are Stock Advisor recommendations. Stryker, Dell, and Microsoft are Inside Value recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Stryker. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

This article was originally written by Wade Michel and was updated by Dan Dzombak. Dan owns none of the companies mentioned. The Fool is investors writing for investors.