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Rating Cut, Stock Slump Trigger 'Buy' Signal

BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Standard & Poor's downgraded America's triple-A credit rating for the first time Friday, almost a trillion dollars was wiped off the benchmark S&P 500 Index of U.S. stocks this week and a key jobs report confirmed the economy is limp.

With stocks having strongly rebounded from the March 2009 low and the Federal Reserve predicting accelerating economic growth in the second half of this year, expectations had been high just a few months ago. Instead, stocks are now down 10% from this year's peak -- producing the first correction in more than two years -- throttled by Thursday's 500-point-plus nose dive in the Dow Jones Industrial Average that did as much emotional damage as financial.

Sure, the news is grim. But it would be foolhardy not to take a step back and see if there are any opportunities in the stock market. After all, money is made by buying low and selling high. And even though confidence in Fed chief Ben Bernanke, President Barack Obama and Congress is shaken, chief market strategists at 13 big banks forecast the S&P 500 will rise 17% through Dec. 31, the average estimate in a Bloomberg survey taken Friday.

So let's step away from the scary R-word -- recession -- for a minute and assess the damage that has been done. I screened stocks over the past 10 days that have fallen more than 10% and may have been unfairly punished. Here are at least four companies that are worth another look:

1. Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL - Get Report): The cruise operator's stock is down 25% over the past 10 days and fell 14% last week after the company lowered its 2011 guidance by about 20 cents to a range of $2.85 to $2.95.

Royal Caribbean blamed the shortfall on lower expectations for Eastern Mediterranean sailings and an interest expense revision.

At the midrange of guidance, the stock is now trading at just 9.3 times earnings, much lower than the five-year average of 17 times earnings. Sure, if we double dip and fall into another recession, the company will likely face tough times. But at these levels, I would consider it a low-risk, high-reward investment.

2. Rent-A-Center (RCII - Get Report): The rent-to-own operator has fallen 21% over the past 10 days. The stock was downgraded last week by Stifel Nicolaus after the company missed expectations and lowered guidance. Management expects $2.85 to $3 a share in earnings, on $2.87 billion to $2.91 billion in revenue. Previously, executives forecast $2.90 to $3.10 a share.

At the midrange of guidance, the stock is now trading at only 8.3 times earnings, much lower than competitor Aaron's (AAN), which trades for 14 times earnings. Aaron's has outperformed Rent-A-Center, but with the recent drop in price, Rent-A-Center looks attractive. And if the economy continues to deteriorate, this is the kind of company that's recession-resilient.

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SYM TRADE IT LAST %CHG
AKAM $71.05 1.70%
GES $17.48 -2.51%
MS $35.09 -2.04%
RCII $27.19 -0.44%
RCL $80.39 0.92%

Markets

DOW 18,096.90 -106.47 -0.58%
S&P 500 2,098.53 -9.25 -0.44%
NASDAQ 4,967.1410 -12.76 -0.26%

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