So how are you feeling about the markets these days?

It's hard to make sense of the up-down-up-down churning, especially as it goes on and on. We've set volatility records in recent weeks, and the hurricane that is roiling the market waters shows no sign of abating.

What the heck do we do? Can we invest sensibly and expect to make money in stocks despite the turbulence? Despite the dire signals we're getting from the economy?

I think we can. That's a good thing, because I'm not feeling optimistic about the overall market right now.

A few days ago, an analyst I respect made a persuasive case that the stock market could well decline another 25% or more from here. Wednesday, a longtime Fool poster who is held in great regard on the boards here made a similar argument -- that the decline will continue until the indexes reach "fair value."

As someone who has always approached stock investing from a value standpoint, I have an uncomfortable inclination to agree with them. After all, the arguments being made by both of those folks, and by many other market veterans right now, are put in classic value-investing terms. They go roughly like this:

If you take a cold, hard look at what the S&P 500 component companies are likely to turn in for earnings next year -- not pie-in-the-sky Wall Street projections, but a serious look -- and you take a cold, hard look at some reasonable multiples on those earnings based on history, you can come out with a value for the S&P 500 somewhere in the 500-600 range. (I haven't done all the math myself, but I've read this enough times to believe it.)

The S&P 500 closed at just under 890 on Wednesday. You see the problem.

But I think we can find good stocks to buy right now anyway. Here's how.

Some stocks are done declining
It's a truism of value investing that there are always stocks "on sale" somewhere in the market: If one looks in the right corners, one can always find companies that are generating a high return on their capital, have a good chance of sustaining that return, have low debt loads, and are selling for a low price relative to their earnings.

With luck, you'll find some with prices low enough to have a "margin of safety" -- meaning that they are low enough to be selling at less than the company's intrinsic value. If they're that low, and if you've done the analysis correctly, there's little risk of them going lower -- and a very good chance of significant gains over time.

That -- high return on capital and a margin of safety -- is value investing in a nutshell. Done right, it builds fortunes. More to the point, done right, it allows us to disregard worries about Mr. Market's moods.

Wait. Can we really take the market out of the equation?
With careful value-minded analysis, yes -- with a caveat. We can take the market's short-term fluctuations, and to some extent its overall trend, out of the equation by buying value and holding for a year or more. We can't take the economy out of the equation entirely, but by looking for value in areas that are likely to do well despite the impending recession, we can work around it.

I just did a couple of quick screens looking for value ideas and came up with these. None stands out in all ways, but each one has some intriguing features and could be worth a closer look:


CAPS Rating



Return on Equity

Acuity Brands (NYSE:AYI)





Broadridge Financial Solutions (NYSE:BR)





Forest Labs (NYSE:FRX)





Foster Wheeler (NASDAQ:FWLT)





Lam Research (NASDAQ:LRCX)





Terra Industries (NYSE:TRA)





Teradata (NYSE:TDC)





Source: Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool CAPS.

You'll note there are no hot names in there, no big-idea stocks that are widely discussed. And there's only one with a five-star CAPS rating. These are the kinds of stocks I've had success with in the past, the ones where there's not a lot of attention, or where there's a difference of opinion that misses deeper fundamental strengths. There's real money to be made here -- just out of the spotlight.

Of course, there can be genuine weaknesses too, and the numbers never tell the whole story. Careful research is a key to successful investing, especially in uncertain times. We definitely can't count on Mr. Market generating some upward momentum to smooth over our mistakes right now.

If you don't have the time or inclination to do the research yourself, but you'd like some carefully vetted value ideas to buy today, give our Inside Value newsletter service a try. You can see its best ideas for new money in just a few seconds with a 30-day free trial. 

Fool contributor John Rosevear has no position in the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletters free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy is your ultimate margin of safety.