Of all the insight I've heard over these past crazy months, the most telling came from an investor who appeared on CNBC last fall and, being entirely serious, advised, "There're only two positions to be in right now: cash, and fetal."

I get it. Even with the recent rally, it's ugly out there. Many companies that overlevered their balance sheets are permanently impaired and will likely never fully rebound. AIG (NYSE:AIG) comes to mind. We had an unprecedented boom; now we're slowly trying to crawl out of an unprecedented bust. That's how markets work.

Even so, history tells us time and time again that market panics and forced sell-offs indiscriminately throw the good out with the bad. The "sell-now-ask-questions-later" mood of global investors is providing bargain-hunting investors with the sort of opportunities we haven't seen in decades. Use that to your advantage.

Using the wisdom of our Motley Fool CAPS community of 140,000 members, I've hunted down a few dirt cheap, high-quality companies. Have a look:


Recent Share Price

Forward P/E Ratio


Expected Growth Rate

TTM Return on Equity

Dividend Yield

CAPS Rating  
(out of 5)

Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB)







Lorillard (NYSE:LO)







Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS)







Data from Yahoo! Finance and Motley Fool CAPS, as of Oct. 8.  

Let's break down the bullish argument for each one.

A closer look at Campbell Soup
The New York Times summed it up nicely this week: In this economy, "goodbye to costly gourmet meals and hello to traditional dishes like that green bean casserole made with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup."

It's funny how a recession turns consumer behavior back to something as tried, true, and fundamental as canned soup. As discretionary spending retracts, low-cost necessities like Campbell Soup become more attractive.

For fiscal 2009, which ended in August, Campbell's total U.S. soup sales jumped 5%. How many other businesses had top-line growth last year? Very few. Like Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), the value Campbell Soup provides to customers is negatively correlated to the economy. The poorer we get, the more we flock to cheap goods. As CAPS member sfgfan10 wrote last year, "Like I've said before ... campbell's can be counted on to outperform the market due to the fact that it sells basic products that consumers need, and is actually earning more revenue this year than it did last year." And at 12 times forward earnings expectations, it's tough to say that outperformance will die anytime soon.

A closer look at Lorillard
The beauty of cigarette manufacturer Lorillard is simple: It has a stranglehold on a niche market (menthols), pays a 5.2% dividend, and has perhaps the healthiest balance sheet in the industry. Lorillard was actually debt-free before recently exploiting cheap credit markets to raise cash it'll mostly use to repurchase shares. CAPS member mitleg wrote a couple of months ago:

The company has a good balance sheet. Though debt to equity is a little high, they have a ton of cash. It pays a nice dividend. Their major asset is Newport. It has a large and growing share of the menthol market. The payout should be safe. This firm has no international exposure, but is a relatively safe dividend play.

A closer look at Goldman Sachs
Let me start by saying I'm no fan of Goldman Sachs' business model. Along with Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), Goldman continues to finance its balance sheet with a business model that's proven beyond any doubt to be terribly dangerous.

What I can't deny, though, is that the current environment puts a taxpayer guarantee behind that risky business model, and sets Goldman up to keep raking in ungodly trading profits.

As a bank-holding company, Goldman now gets full borrowing ability from the Federal Reserve, essentially taking liquidity issues off the table. Removing that risk lowers its cost of capital, even while it predominantly taps capricious short-term credit markets. Unfair it certainly is, but it's the best of both worlds for Goldman.

Meanwhile, the ultra-low interest rate environment and continued lack of competition post-Lehman Brothers ensures that trading profits will be huge, particularly in areas like fixed-income trading. Combine that with a recharged IPO market and companies looking to raise equity capital, and there's little question that Goldman's profits will be near, if not in, record territory for the foreseeable future. For a select few, this is a great time to be in banking.

You take it from here
Have your own take on any of these companies? More than 140,000 investors use CAPS to share ideas and swap opinions. Check it out and speak your mind. It's 100% free to participate.

For related Foolishness:

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Both Campbell Soup and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. The Fool has a disclosure policy.