Top Picks: 10 great stocks for the long haul

If you're an investor looking for action -- for that tiny stock with lots of volatility and white-hot upside potential -- read no further. But if you're fed up with the volatile U.S. equity market over the last couple of years, have we got some long-term, stable value stocks for you.

Throughout the market's remarkable rally off the March low, more volatile, lower-quality stocks (of smaller companies with weaker balance sheets and less certain prospects) have outperformed less volatile, higher quality stocks (generally those of bigger companies with stronger balance sheets in more mature industries).

That's no doubt frustrating to folks who prefer the role of the tortoise to that of the hare when it comes to investing. It's not that stable, dividend-paying blue chips and megacaps aren't doing well. It's just that the crazy money was made on the riskiest bets, like, say, tiny Diedrich Coffee (DDRX). While the uber-blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) is up about 50 percent since the March low, Diedrich's stock has gained -- wait for it -- 6,000 percent.

Before you kick yourself for not getting in on Diedrich when the getting was good, recall that investing for the long term is a process requiring patience and discipline. Sure, someone wins the lottery every day, too, but odds are it's not going to be you.

Fortunately this unequal opportunity rally has left scads of high-quality value stocks trading at what appear to be bargain levels. We sliced and diced our way through equities, looking for big companies with solid fundamentals, low forward price/earnings multiples, relatively low volatility and generous but seemingly stable dividends.

What's left is a list of ten intriguing value plays for the long haul. They won't make you rich overnight, but they might help you sleep better. And recall that it was the tortoise, not the hare, which crossed the finish line first.

No doubt the global recession has been tough on energy companies, but now that oil is back at $80 a barrel, well, it's hard to have much sympathy. Still, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. BP (BP), as one of the world's largest integrated oil and gas companies, has a bright future, thanks to inexorably rising demand. Shares trade at a 20 percent discount to the market, but it's the dividend yield that really got our attention. At six percent, it's a real gusher, and should help keep something of a floor on the stock.

Dow component Chevron (CVX) has the same fundamentals working in its favor as BP, but with the added advantage of being almost preposterously cheap looking. Shares trade at nearly a full 50 percent discount to the S&P 500, while being about 40 percent less volatile. And the 20 percent return on equity is not too shabby, either. At 3.5 percent, the dividend yield isn't as generous as BP's, but with a valuation as deeply discounted as this, investors are likely to get greater upside.

Here's a Dow component that beat the Street's third-quarter estimates and, of course, Wall Street drove the stock lower as short-term institutional investors exited positions after a nice run-up. So much the better for the rest of us. Coke's (KO) long-term global revenue goals look attainable, making shares look attractive. The stocks currently offers nearly a 25 percent discount to the S&P 500 ($INX), while being about 40 percent less volatile, to boot. The three percent dividend yield is sweet, but not too bubbly, as well.

Home Depot
Make no mistake, the housing crisis is far from over, but Dow component Home Depot (HD) is doing an admirable job in transforming itself from a high-growth company to a more mature business that focuses on things like costs, margins, return on invested capital and cash flow. Let's also not forget the millions of foreclosed homes sitting on the market for nine months or more that will need sprucing up before they can be put back on the market. Shares offer nearly a 20 percent discount to the broader market while generating a dividend yield of 3.4 percent.

Johnson & Johnson
As a gigantic health-care stock, Dow component Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) is a classic defensive play. Fortunately, the market's unbridled appetite for risk has left shares at a very appealing value. The stock not only offers a deep 35 percent discount to the S&P 500, but it is also rising more slowly relative to its growth rate when compared with the market. That's often a reliable indicator of a bargain. Throw in the 3.2 percent dividend yield and you get a stalwart of a company that should help offset the riskier picks in any portfolio.

There's a lot to like about this consumer staples company, most notably that people eat breakfast through times of economic contraction or expansion. Kellogg (K) has done a pretty fine job over the years of managing rising costs in a deflationary environment, while also defending or grabbing market share. The stock trades at roughly a 25 percent discount to the S&P 500 but, like J&J, it's not rising nearly as fast relative to growth prospects. And, as always, there's a lot to like about a steady, stable three percent yield on the dividend.

Kimberly Clark
Kimberly-Clark (KMB) is another consumer staples company we like because, as with Kellogg, people need its wares in good times and bad. In this case, however, it's all about Huggies. Good times come and go, but global population growth ensures there will always be a need for diapers (not to mention Pull-Ups, Little Swimmers and Kleenex tissues). Shares offer about a 35 percent discount to the broader market, making them look like a steal. The dividend yield of four percent is nothing to sneeze at, either.

McDonald's (MCD) might secretly wish that the recession would never end. The Dow component posted some more impressive quarterly results last week, easily topping Wall Street's estimates. It just goes to show that a well-run company selling cheap food to cash-strapped consumers can do very well in a global downturn. Shares currently offer a discount of more than 25 percent to the broader market, making them look about as cheap as the items on the dollar menu. And with a dividend yield of 3.8 percent, well, we're loving it.

Procter & Gamble
Dow component P&G (PG) might be the best consumer staples stalwart on a U.S. exchange. Long considered one the best-managed companies in the country (making everything from Tide detergent to Crest toothpaste to Pampers diapers) P&G has made great strides shedding lower margin businesses while buying or building out more profitable ones (like $130 Olay beauty products). Shares currently trade at a 25 percent discount to the broader market while throwing of a dividend yield of 3.1 percent.

Unilever (UN), the Anglo-Dutch behemoth whose vast portfolio of brands include Popsicle, Ben & Jerry's, Lipton tea and Dove soap (to name just a very few), has all the attractive defensive qualities that one of the world's biggest consumer staples stocks can offer, with an exciting Far Eastern twist: The company has been doing business in the region for more than a hundred years, giving Unilever very wide coverage across Asia, with thousands of core distributors supplying its products to millions of retail outlets. Shares offer a 25 percent discount to the S&P while kicking off a dividend yield of 3.6 percent.

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