The best time to buy stocks isn't when everyone's clamoring over each other trying to grab shares before it's too late. Rather, you should hone in on stocks that nobody else is even thinking about, let alone seriously considering. You'll discover that many of those stocks are unloved for very good reasons -- but a few might well give you exactly what you're looking for.

Where not to look
Right now, investors are focusing on a number of popular trends. One of the strongest is dividend investing: focusing on stocks that have reasonably high dividend yields to provide income for shareholders. In addition, emerging market and other international stocks still capture a lot of attention from growth-seeking investors who want exposure to economies that can outpace slow U.S. growth rates. Commodities, especially precious metals and oil, have also remained popular as stores of value at a time when confidence in governments and currencies around the world is near an all-time low. And recently, technology stocks have connected with investors, as many companies have posted impressive earnings that point to tech as a bastion of strength in an otherwise sluggish economic environment.

So if you're looking for undiscovered value, the first thing you have to do is avert your eyes from the stocks that are connected with those popular trends. In the words of Charlie Munger, you have to invert.

Look where you don't want to
To do that, I decided to look for traditional large-cap value stocks by a very ordinary measure -- share prices that represent single-digit multiples of earnings. But to eliminate those popular trends, I only looked at stocks with dividend yields less than the S&P 500's average yield around 2%. That left me with just 16 choices.

Then, I made some additional cuts. With bank stocks doing their best to restore pre-crisis dividend yields, they're getting attention from investors who are trying to game their inevitable payout increases. Tech stocks got the boot, even including Corning (NYSE: GLW), which despite its humble beginnings as an all-purpose glass and ceramics manufacturer has now recast itself as an integral part of the smartphones, flat-panel TVs and monitors, and other consumer electronics that now dominate the scene. I also took out the lone oil company.

What was left were these stocks:


P/E Excluding Extraordinary Items

Dividend Yield

Hartford Financial (NYSE: HIG) 7.06 1.68%
Unum Group (NYSE: UNM) 9.23 1.66%
Aetna 9.92 1.39%
WellPoint (NYSE: WLP) 9.99 1.36%
Gannett  (NYSE: GCI) 6.34 1.18%
Torchmark 9.83 1.06%
Tyson Foods  (NYSE: TSN) 7.60 0.87%
Leucadia National (NYSE: LUK) 4.82 0.75%
Lincoln National 9.85 0.74%
CIGNA 9.47 0.08%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard and Poor's.

From this, you can tell that insurers of all stripes are well represented on the down-and-out list. That makes a lot of sense, as the insurance industry has been buffeted on all sides. On the property and casualty side, a huge number of natural disasters -- including Japan's earthquake and various storm events in the U.S. -- have caused losses. Meanwhile, life insurance companies like Hartford and Lincoln have suffered from low interest rates and the resulting weak investment returns. And health-insurance providers have had to deal with changes in health-care regulation and uncertainty about the future of how the government will monitor and pay for health care.

The other companies on this list have similar stories to tell. Investors don't like Gannett because of its exposure to the newspaper business, but a stake in CareerBuilder helps it stand out from its more paper-focused peers. Tyson has had to deal with oversupply in the chicken market yet doesn't want to risk cutting production and losing share. And the diversified Leucadia faces risk from a select few major investments.

Take a closer look
Now don't get the wrong idea -- just because these stocks are cheap and unloved doesn't mean that they're automatically worth buying. The point, though, is that you should spend more of your research time on stocks like these that are out of the spotlight. If you do that, you'll find that when more investors do join you in looking at them, these stocks will give you better returns than if you waited for the crowd to figure them out.

Fads are easy to follow. But if you buck them and look elsewhere for strong stock prospects, your chances of finding a true winner will rise. That's an edge you need.

Here at the Fool, we like the idea of looking off the beaten path. You'll find some great unloved stocks in our special report, "5 Stocks The Motley Fool Owns -- And You Should, Too." Click on the link to have a free copy sent to you right away.

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger tries to ignore nothing but still focus on the important things. You can follow him on Twitter here. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of WellPoint. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool's disclosure policy is a good value for you.