Something extraordinary happened this year. Something so extraordinary, it has happened on only four other occasions since 1927. Something that over the past 40 years has made investors bags of money.

Value stocks are down for their second straight year.

That's it?
Control your excitement, and I'll tell you why this is so significant.

Value stocks are often the cheapest stocks in the market, because they trade at depressed prices in relation to their revenue, earnings, or book value. They can be cyclical companies, such as homebuilder Lennar (NYSE:LEN), or companies just going through a rough patch, such as Cemex (NYSE:CX).

But that cheapness belies their actual worth. Numerous studies have shown that these bargain-basement stocks outperform their showier and more expensive counterparts. In fact, according to financial scholars Eugene Fama & Kenneth French, stocks with low price-to-book value ratios outperform stocks with high ratios by 4.3 percentage points annually.

Can't keep 'em down
Value stocks don't get knocked down often, and they rarely stay down for long. Neither the savings and loan crisis of the late 1980s, the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, nor the economic recession of 1990-1991 could knock these stocks down for two straight years. Not even the stagflation hydra of the late 1970s could do that.

According to Fama & French, large-cap value stocks have fallen for two consecutive years only five times in the past 100 years:

  • Great Depression: 1929-1932
  • World War II: 1939-1941
  • Arab oil embargo: 1973-1974
  • Collapse of the Internet bubble: 2001-2002
  • Collapse of the housing bubble: 2007-2008

It's rare, but this kind of marketwide value depression is a golden opportunity.

The snap-back effect
See, when value stocks recover, they do so with a vengeance. They return to the outperformance that has made them the darlings of many of our most legendary investors.

The following are the returns for value stocks after they fell for two straight years:

  • 1931 return: -58% (1932: -3%, 1933: 117%)
  • 1941 return: -1% (1942: 34%)
  • 1975 return: 56%
  • 2003 return: 35%
  • 2009 return: ?

I can't predict when value stocks will recover from the current financial crises, but this data suggests that you want to be invested when they do -- because their performance will probably dwarf even their usual outsized gains.

Yes, it's tough to buy right now. It might even be worse than you think for a while. But I believe the market will recover, and you'll want to profit from that recovery. And that means buying solid companies that have the capacity to ride out this market turbulence.

Bargains are out there
Even in uncertain times like these, famous value investors are seeing extreme buying opportunities. Warren Buffett said recently that this is the time to buy. Ever curious, I used the stock screening tool on Motley Fool CAPS to search for some highly rated large-cap stocks with high dividend yields and low price-to-earnings multiples. I came up with the following list, which could be a good starting point for further research:

Company Name

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Outperform Picks

Market Capitalization (in billions)

Dividend Yield

Price-to-Earnings (TTM)

ONEOK (NYSE:OKE)

*****

312

2.8

6.3

8.3

Cellcom Israel (NYSE:CEL)

*****

227

2.2

14.7

9.6

Black & Decker (NYSE:BDK)

****

212

2.6

4.2

6.0

AllianceBernstein (NYSE:AB)

****

398

1.7

15.0

5.4

Tupperware Brands (NYSE:TUP)

****

203

1.1

5.2

7.6

Data from Motley Fool CAPS and Yahoo! Finance as of Dec. 3, 2008.

The Foolish bottom line
The market is dreadful right now, but it's creating the conditions for remarkable returns when it recovers. And that means it's time to buy.

At Motley Fool Inside Value, we're seeing a lot of compelling opportunities, including stocks trading at substantial discounts to their intrinsic value. If you'd like to find out what we're recommending now, take a 30-day free trial to Inside Value. You'll get all of our recommendations, including our five best bets for new money now, as well as a discount cash flow calculator you can use to find values of your own. Click here to get started -- there's no obligation to subscribe.

This article was first published Sept. 11, 2008. It has been updated.

Fool analyst Andrew Sullivan owns shares of Cemex, but he has no financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. Cemex is a Motley Fool Global Gains selection, a Stock Advisor pick, and a Motley Fool holding. Tupperware Brands, ONEOK, and AllianceBernstein are Motley Fool Income Investor selections. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.