You know that political bumper sticker that goes, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention"? It might as well apply to the market these days. Last year was a terrible, awful, and downright painful year to be an investor.
Good -- even great -- companies were sold down to levels far below their true worth, and investors are losing their savings. And even after the recent run-up, some outrageous bargains remain.
A shocking and somewhat interesting statistic
See, a whopping 88% of all stocks traded on the major U.S. exchanges were down in 2008. That's 5,369 names in the red. Of those, 4,407 dropped 25% or more -- a list that includes seemingly "defensive" stocks such as PepsiCo
So if you lost money last year, don't feel bad. There was no hiding from this downturn.
But it probably hurts more if you pulled money from the market and missed out on this recovery. The good news is there are still some cheap stocks out there.
Case in point
Take Barrett Business Services, for example. I found this tiny West Coast professional-employer organization and staffing company during my work as the micro-cap analyst for our Motley Fool Hidden Gems service. At the time, it was trading for a little more than $20 per share. I liked the CEO, I liked the balance sheet, I liked the track record, and I thought it looked cheap. So I told people to buy it.
What happened next was frustrating: It dropped to $17, then to $14, and today sits around $10.
What's your next move?
What's more, Barrett Business Services stock has pretty much stayed put while other names such as Bank of America
That's because Barrett still has a strong balance sheet, it has increased its share repurchase program, and it's paying shareholders a nice 3.2% dividend. Could the stock drop further from here? Of course, but as the employment picture improves, Barrett should rebound strong.
But regardless of whether the market is rising or falling, it's always a good time to buy excellent companies on the cheap. That's what we're all about at Hidden Gems, and even though it's gotten harder to find cheap stocks, we're still building our portfolio of small-cap bargains.
To read about the stocks we're buying today, click here.
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This article was first published on Jan. 10, 2008. It has been updated.
Tim Hanson owns shares of Barrett Business Services and Chipotle. Chipotle is both a Motley Fool Hidden Gems and a Rule Breakers recommendation. SYSCO and PepsiCo are Income Investor picks. SYSCO is also an Inside Value choice. The Motley Fool owns shares of Chipotle. The Fool's disclosure policy is awesome.