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With each passing day and new media headline, investor confidence appears to be hitting new lows. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal illustrated a case in which the S&P 500 could hit 500 or even 400. The news headline read "Dow 5000? A Bearish Possibility."
A day earlier, Barron's -- owned by the same publisher as The Wall Street Journal -- ran the cover, "Splat! Will the Dow fall to 5000? We don't think so. Here's why."I read both of these publications regularly and find them to be invaluable resources of data, but I don't use them for market-timing. With such diametrically opposing viewpoints, this bolsters my belief that investors are best served when they use the raw data to formulate their own opinions. And the data says we may have some declines in the near term, but many equity prices are now cheap for the long term. How can investors make the most of this gut-wrenching situation? By trying to find those investment opportunities that are likely to produce five- to tenfold returns over the next several years. I realize that my thesis may seem wildly optimistic, but it might be more realistic when you consider how depressed certain security prices have become simply because the market has completely given up hope. It's as if no business will ever generate increasing earnings ever again. This extreme pessimism toward equities has happened before. It happened to oil refiners in 2001 and 2002 when the market took the entire industry for dead. You could have bought Tesoro (TSO - Get Report) or Frontier (FTO) for less than $2 a share, or Valero (VLO - Get Report) for as little as $7 a share during that time. By 2006, Tesoro, Frontier and Valero were trading at average prices of $30, $30 and $50, respectively. What enabled patient investors to earn such fantastic returns -- regardless of whether you bought at the exact bottom or sold precisely at the top? The market had lost faith in the staying power of these companies -- major players in the refining business with substantial assets, not some fly-by-night companies with hopes of riding the next wave.