In the throes of this deep recession, investors sometimes scour prosperous companies for worthwhile stocks to buy. Others simply leave the market, sometimes for good. But despite the economic downturn, some companies have maintained profitability with good ongoing prospects. Although these companies' stocks are not performing well in most cases, they present prime opportunities for enterprising investors.

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An Exciting, Dull Business
Few businesses are more yawn-inducing to investors and analysts than the consumer products industry. Toothpaste-maker Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE:CL), along with other personal care and household products, has enjoyed solid business during this recession. In addition, it has raised prices on what are rightly referred to as its "humble" products. The company is expected to increase earnings to 96 cents per share this quarter, up from 89 cents the previous year. According to FactSet CallStreet, Colgate is expected to achieve an EPS for 2009 of $4.21, which would be an 8.7% increase in annual income over last year's $3.87 per share. Considering the doomed state of the economy according to the headlines, Colgate is performing superbly. The icing on the cake is that the company, financially strong enough for an acquisition, is rumored to be a possible buyer of Sara Lee's international household care products division. (These companies may not be flashy, but they offer investors structure and diversification. Learn more about this sector in A Guide To Consumer Staples.)

Plain, But Rich
With so many market observers, analysts, investors and traders, seemingly obsessed with financial stocks, consumer care stocks have gone unnoticed. Kimberly-Clark (NYSE:KMB), manufacturer of Kleenex and other tissue products appears to be having a flat year, but its earnings are expected to resume growth in 2010. Perhaps it's all relative, but it seems that investors would be fighting for shares if Kimberly-Clark were a bank. Alberto Culver (NYSE:ACV), maker of shampoos, personal care and beauty products, is expecting a double-digit percentage gain in income for the year, despite its flat quarter.

Soap, cleaner and laundry giant Clorox (NYSE:CLX) is doing terrific business through the recession, with quarterly projections calling for 91 cents EPS against last year's 75 cents. According to FactSet CallStreet, the company's earnings come in at $3.73 for the year, up from $3.59 last year. Investors should regard earnings projections with skepticism, although this group does not include multi-billion dollar write-downs or losses. Dull detergent maker Church & Dwight (NYSE:CHD) forecasts even bigger improvements in its profits picture, with consensus analyst estimates at 86 cents EPS for the quarter, up from 81 cents for the same quarter lat year. Its EPS for the year totals $3.25, against $2.86 the previous year. (Read Earnings Forecasts: A Primer to learn how this key metric is calculated and used to judge market performance.)

Classic Long-Term Value
Colgate stock is languishing, with a recent close of $60.44 per share, up from its 52-week low of just over $54. However, its 52-week high is $80. Its dividend currently yields just under 3%, and with $15 billion in annual revenue, $2 billion (and rising) in income and market cap of $30 billion, the company is on solid footing. Colgate and other consumer care product companies are not just consumer-cyclical stock plays, though. These stocks will not diminish in value when the stock market eventually rises again. In addition, these stocks are not merely defensive plays. But these are decent stocks to hold in a down market, as they dropped only 25% in value against the Dow Jones Industrial Average's overall decline of 55%.

Despite all the talk about value investing being dead, where these stocks will shine is when the market eventually catches up and realizes their value. For the long-term, Colgate's stock price should reflect the underlying value of the company in two to five years. Grabbing this solid stock and making money in toothpaste should make any investor smile! (Read more about this stock-picking process in Stock-Picking Strategies: Value Investing.)

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