Of all the insights I've heard over these few crazy months, the most telling came from an investor who appeared on CNBC last fall: "There are only two positions to be in right now: cash, and fetal."

Even with the recent rally, things are bad out there. Many companies that overleveraged their balance sheets are permanently impaired, unlikely to ever fully rebound. (Banks come to mind.) We had an unprecedented boom; now we're in the middle of an unprecedented bust. That's how markets work.

Nevertheless, history tells us time and time again that market panics and forced sell-offs indiscriminately throw the good out with the bad. The frenzy over financial markets, and the "sell-now-ask-questions-later" mood of global investors, have created the kind of opportunities not seen in decades for bargain-hunting investors.

Tapping the wisdom of our 130,000-member-strong CAPS community, I've hunted down a few dirt cheap, high-quality companies:


Recent Share Price

Forward P/E Ratio

5-Year Expected Growth Rate

TTM Return on Equity

Dividend Yield

CAPS Rating  
(5 max)








Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A)







Altria Group (NYSE:MO)







Data from Yahoo! Finance, Capital IQ (a division of Standard & Poor's), and Motley Fool CAPS. Dividend yield is trailing and may not reflect recent announcements. TTM = trailing 12 months. NM = not meaningful. N/A = Not available.

All three are well-established large-cap stocks. Let's break down the bullish argument for each.

Everybody loves cheap stuff
Costco is one of the fortunate handful of companies capitalizing on consumers' newfound frugality. Along with companies such as McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), Costco has embraced a whole new influx of customers downsizing to make ends meet. That's not a bad spot to be in these days.

CAPS member TMFSTX offers a compelling overview of some of Costco's other intriguing qualities, including this excerpt:

A Tom G and Fool favorite. I am big fan of companies that can ring the cash register with small transactions in a steady predicable fashion. Boeing (NYSE:BA) may be a great organization but I don't like the idea of a having the next three years of earnings come down to a bidding war with Airbus over a fleet of jumbo jets in Qatar. I like the [Costco], [MasterCard (NYSE:MA) ... [Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT)] model-companies that generate revenue in a predictable, repeatable fashion. Want to talk predicable?-let's talk Costco's membership. Fool analyst David Meier put it this way "the model is this... get members to join and provide the best possible services to keep them coming back" It's a great model. Currently [Costco] has 55 million members paying $50.00 or more a year renewing at 85%. You do the math.

Some investors argue that our national shift toward frugality may be a temporary phenomenon. I don't buy this for a second. The amount of pain we've been through over the past eight months is enough to scare most people straight for an entire lifetime. As Warren Buffett said earlier this year, "You can get fearful in five minutes, but you won't get confident for some time." I suspect people will be pinching pennies for many, many years to come.

Everybody loves cheap stuff ... managed by Warren Buffett
When Buffett laid out why investors should be scooping up stocks last fall, he sounded fairly optimistic. "[B]usinesses will indeed suffer earnings hiccups, as they always have. But most major companies will be setting new profit records 5, 10 and 20 years from now," he said.

Poke holes in the argument if you wish. Many people have. Berkshire Hathaway is sticking with what's always worked -- and likely always will. As CAPS member OilFieldFool recently wrote:

Buffett and Munger have positioned the company with strong acquisitions during this economic downturn, and the stock's market cap has been beat down on short term sentiment (which we all know is not something that concerns these two gentlemen). The company has been rated as of late by traders, not investors ... This is the exact market that Buffett loves, and unless we are headed for times of total economic holocaust this one is due out as a big winner.

Lightin' up the dividends
Last but not least is one of my favorite stocks of all time -- Altria Group. Investors are currently fretting over new tobacco taxes, which they believe will cause smokers to stub out their beloved Marlboros en masse.

That makes sense at first glance, but seriously, how many times have we heard this story before? Seems like every year since about the early '80s. Altria's enjoyed a dominant customer base -- recession or no recession, taxes or no taxes. As fellow Fool Ilan Moscovitz recently wrote, "People smoke because they are addicted to nicotine -- not because it is profitable." Altria shares and their 7.6% dividend? Definitely profitable.

Your turn to chime in
Do any of these ideas look interesting to you? More than 130,000 investors use CAPS to share ideas and swap opinions. Check it out and speak your mind. It's 100% free to participate.

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Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Altria Group. Berkshire Hathaway and Costco are Motley Fool Stock Advisor and Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations, and Motley Fool holdings. Microsoft also got the nod from Inside Value. The Fool offers its disclosure policy absolutely free.