Looks to me like the folks at Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) are feeling a bit edgy. Witness the preemptive headline in today's release "earnings in line with previous guidance." Of course, the corporate flacks had good reason to be watching out for investor reaction. Lowered guidance back in September sent the stock crashing to a 52-week low, and it hasn't recovered much since then.

But there's little reason for such pessimism about this toothpaste 'n' soap seller. True, today's bottom line for shareholders, $0.58 per share, came to less than last year's $0.63, but there are good reasons for the difference. The prior-year quarter saw a much lower tax rate, and this year's was abnormally high. The spread on that line alone was 7%. Ouch.

Furthermore, the company put out more for commercial spending, lowering operating margins but gaining market share in overseas economies such as the U.K., Russia, and China. Collecting consumer recognition at the cost of competitors big and small can pay off handsomely in the future, and, of course, it's nice to remain solidly profitable while doing so. Are you listeningNetflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), Blockbuster (NYSE:BBI)?

Top-line growth of 7% (5% without foreign exchange benefits) may not seem too exciting, and it will probably hold back the Street for a while. Let's face it, this is one of those "inevitable" businesses. That's why Foolish value and income investors would be wise to look again at the firm's copious free cash flow -- in the neighborhood of $1.5 billion per year -- and nice dividend yield.

Among peers like Clorox (NYSE:CLX) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), only Gillette (NYSE:G) has better margins. All of them trade at much higher earnings multiples -- for now.

In short, this is one of those bargain opportunities that comes along only periodically with what is otherwise a pretty steady company. It looks like a great time to stock up on a consumer staple.

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Seth Jayson is pretty sure he uses Colgate toothpaste, but at the time of publication, he had positions in no company mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.