As I am writing this article, the AP headline at the top of Yahoo! Finance is "Stocks Tumble on Global Economic Worries." That headline is a perfect illustration of a phenomenon that is creating enormous opportunity for investors who understand its implications.

Macro rules
Since the European sovereign debt crisis intensified several months ago, macro-level concerns have been at the forefront of the market's mind. Investors are less concerned about company-specific fundamentals than they are about the potential for a slowdown in the economy, or the risks associated with rising government debt levels. One clear indication that this is the case: the correlations between individual stocks have been rising, i.e., stocks are moving together more closely.

"Risk on, risk off" is no way to invest
Instead of asking which stocks they want to own, the question that is driving investors (and, therefore, stock prices) is: "Do I want to own risky assets (i.e., stocks) today or not?" By focusing on macro-level concerns and lumping stocks together as "risk assets," investors are ignoring differences in value between sectors and stocks -- and there are substantial differences. When that mind-set takes hold, it creates opportunity.

A stockpicker's market
Patient investors who are willing to look at individual stocks on their own merits stand to do very well over the next few years. One of the most promising segments is high-quality companies, which are underpriced relative to the broad market and cheap by any measure. By "high-quality," I'm referring to well-run, entrenched franchises that are consistently profitable. Here are seven examples:


P/E Multiple (2010e Earnings)

United Technologies (NYSE: UTX)


McDonald's (NYSE: MCD)


Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ)


ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM)


Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG)


Novartis (NYSE: NVS)


American Express (NYSE: AXP)


Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

The market is offering up some of the best-run companies in the world at very reasonable prices -- that's no commonplace occurrence. Investors who have the foresight and patience to take advantage of that can expect to reap the rewards of this strategy over the next several years.

One of the hallmarks of a high-quality stock is a sustainable, above-average dividend. Jordan DiPietro has identified the best dividend stock. Period.

Fool contributor Alex Dumortier has no beneficial interest in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Novartis AG is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Procter & Gamble is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Procter & Gamble. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.