Over the past 60 years, the United States has seen, and survived, 10 recessions (not counting the one we are in at present). From the shortest one -- six months in 1980 -- to the two that spanned 1973-1975 and 1981-1982, we've muddled through and come out the other side. In between each, we've experienced, on average, almost five years of expansion.

So while we're in another recession right now, I'm excited!

Pardon me while I wipe my chin
First, we have a whole bunch of people running around in panic mode crying, "The sky is falling!" They don't want to hold stocks, doomed or not, during a recession, so they're willing to sell them -- cheap.

Second, the news media fans the flames of panic with constant stories about weakening consumer spending and how the recession is hurting everything from Amazon.com to ZymoGenetics.

Third, we've got a handful of really hated companies. Specifically, I'm talking about the banks, thrifts, and builders that caused -- and are feeling the fallout from -- the mess we're in.

What does that add up to? Bargains.

Like a kid in a candy store ... and the candy's on sale
One option is to search among the hated banks. In that space, Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) might make an intriguing play. It just reported $3 billion in profit, showing healthy gains in trading profit. But its stock price is still below the 2007 high. If it can turn around its investment banking business, which actually fell compared to last year and the previous quarter, it could top those highs once again.

There's also US Bancorp (NYSE:USB) which has been making some careful acquisitions to expand its presence in mutual fund administration, bond trustee, and retail banking in Nevada. Acquisitions like those, made at a time when things are relatively cheap, are beginning to make this one look tasty.

And if you don't want to invest in a bank, but still want exposure to the financial sector, consider Visa (NYSE:V). It takes a fee from the millions of credit card transactions executed daily -- without being on the hook for the amounts charged. The so-called tollbooth companies like this can make excellent investments.

Then there are (still) the retailers, trying to survive the recession and the inevitable decrease in consumer spending. Those companies that can buck that trend should be best of breed. Companies like Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), which recently missed earnings expectations but raised guidance as it sees traffic stabilizing and sales trends improving. Increased market share after the demise of Circuit City is helping the company position itself to come out of the recession firing on all cylinders.

Even some big-name companies have been dragged down. ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM), the dealer to our gasoline habit, is one such example. After rallying a bit in March, it's pretty much flatlined since then as earnings continued to come in below estimates and the previous year's numbers. With the world still addicted to oil and gasoline, however, I expect that situation to turn around, so I'm keeping my eye on this one.

Finally, consumer products and tech have gotten interesting lately. Giant Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL) has recovered well from its recent lows, proving its consumer-brand power, while NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA) is off significantly from its highs. While the former needs further investigation to see if it's still worth buying, the latter's share price is still intriguing. Regardless, I'm more interested in companies I can buy today to own in 2014 -- so thanks for the bargains!

"When Buffett speaks, people listen"
Investing in the above industries might seem counterintuitive now, but asWarren Buffett said in The New York Times, au contraire:

To be sure, investors are right to be wary of highly leveraged entities or businesses in weak competitive positions. But fears regarding the long-term prosperity of the nation's many sound companies make no sense. These businesses 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.

Bill Nygren, another great value investor, agrees. Looking at this type of economic situation, he wrote, "What usually happens is that suffering industries begin to recover, the next crisis comes from somewhere least expected, and the cycle of creating new investment opportunities starts anew. We have no reason to believe it will be different this time."

These gentlemen know that investing today in areas that aren't well-liked will position your portfolio for the eventual end of this bear market. There will be another bull market. What we have now is the chance to grab some good companies while they're cheap.

So what are you going to do? Stop investing in stocks altogether, worried that things will be different this time? Or listen to master investors (not me -- Buffett and Nygren!) and look at some opportunities?

I know what I'm doing.

Finding value
Above, I've given some names of companies that have caught my eye recently. Philip Durell and his team at Motley Fool Inside Value have highlighted several others in the downtrodden areas of the market, just as Buffett and Nygren advise. In fact, you can get a sneak peak at two of them right now. One is expected to benefit from the health-care overhaul, while the other will benefit from work on America's roads. Both are available to you in this free special report.

This article was first published on Feb. 12, 2008. It has been updated.

Jim Mueller doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. Best Buy is a recommendation of both Stock Advisor and Inside Value. Amazon and NVIDIA are also choices of Inside Value. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy. The Fool has a disclosure policy that believes, deep down, that the market will turn around.