Much ado about nothing
Before the recent market swoon, investors were subjected to non-stop news reporting on the coming Dow Jones Industrial Average all-time high. Let me make something clear from the start: I consider these absolutely meaningless milestones. They tell us nothing about the health of the market from here on out, and usually only serve to attract a few more sheep to the inevitable Wall Street slaughter.

Alas, most of the headline-hawkers out there could not possibly care less. Remember, their job isn't to make you understand, or to help you make smarter investing decisions. Their only concern is to sell a headline.

That's why precious few of them will make clear to you the real lesson from the late rise in the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500.

Since 2000, boring stocks have been the best investments.

Just take a look at the biggest winners in the Dow from bubble-time 2000 until now: Altria (NYSE:MO) is up more than 370% since January 2000, and Caterpillar has jumped more than 270%.

Need more?
Let's turn to a wider market index, the S&P 500, to illustrate this point further. When you remember that this index still stands well below its 2000 bubble high, you might expect that it's been a tough place to make money over the past six years. But you'd be wrong.

A quick check of current S&P 500 stocks yields more than 200 that have doubled since January 2000. More than 110 of them have tripled. There are five dozen four-baggers.

But it hasn't been all beer and Skittles for the S&P 500 since the bubble. There were plenty of losers along the way. Since January 2000, 100-plus S&P 500 stocks have been flat or negative.

News you should lose
If you think your portfolio would be better off had you held more of those winners than losers, you'd be right. If you think knowing which was which would have been nearly impossible, I'd say you're mistaken.

There's one big, easily perceptible difference between the winners and losers: the amount of media blabber and public adoration they attracted.

Let's start with three of the losers.

Company

Return Since 2000

Monster Worldwide (NASDAQ:MNST)

(44%)

Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN)

5%

Qualcomm

(37%)

Notice anything? Of course you do. During the bubble, these companies were in the news 24/7. These companies were going to lead us into the next century! They were not only changing our lives through technology, but they were also making millionaires all around the country! Girl Scouts got rich with these stocks! That guy who used to live beneath the underpass had a new mansion on the lake thanks to these stocks.

These companies could do no wrong -- unless you bought them for your portfolio in January 2000. The only winner in the bunch, Amazon, has returned 5%, much less than you could have earned with a risk-free passbook savings account.

Let's contrast that with a half-dozen companies that weren't front-page news fodder all day, every day, back then. Note the returns.

Company

Return

Quest Diagnostics (NYSE:DGX)

576%

Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL)

467%

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH)

575%

Thinking back to 2000, it's easy to see the disconnect. While the tech bubble kept inflating, fewer people were interested in dusty old health-care companies. And because these companies were ignored, or even openly reviled, their stocks were priced accordingly. When they delivered consistent growth and profits, the stock prices soared, leaving the owners of all those can't-miss, new-world technology stocks wondering what happened.

Foolish final word
The news media can be an investor's worst enemy or best friend. It all depends on what you do with the news. If you latch on to the hype, heaven help your portfolio. The best investment opportunities are not to be found in the companies you hear the most about. In fact, enthusiasm is always a great indicator of an overpriced stock.

The best long-term opportunities are found, as always, in companies that get little or negative press and are underpriced accordingly. (Studies prove it.) As Wall Street once again begins to hype tech of all kinds and toss aside homebuilders and energy, I'd say we may be shaping up for a repetition of history. So the question to ask yourself is this: Do I want to buy the stuff that's getting the headlines, a la 2000? Or do I want to look where the market isn't?

Yes, ignoring the media darlings takes willpower and confidence. It's easier said than done. But there's help available. At Motley Fool Inside Value, we make it a point to concentrate on the sectors no one loves. Advisor Philip Durell makes decisions based on earnings power and price, not excited pundits. And some of the companies discussed above, such as UnitedHealth and Quest, still make the grade, and have been recommendations. If you'd like to take a look at a service that's not afraid to invest where the rest of the market won't, a one-month guest pass is just a click away.

This article was originally published on Oct. 17, 2006. It has been updated.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson owned shares of Quest Diagnostics, but no position in any other company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. UnitedHealth is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation and Stock Advisor pick. Quest Diagnostics is an Inside Value choice. Amazon.com is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Fool rules are here.