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Hardwood To Trading Floor: Stocks Go Final Four

By CHRISTINA REXRODE

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ March Madness: It's not just for basketball.

The sports world is laser focused on college hoops right now. The annual tournament is near its climax, with just a quartet of teams â¿¿ cutely called the Final Four â¿¿ slugging it out for the national championship title, which will be decided Monday. And since the stock market is a lot like the tournament, packed as it is with upsets and long shots, we asked half a dozen experts to come up with their own Final Four of stocks.

The answers varied widely, from natural gas and oil wells to Oreos and comfy shoes, but there were a few common themes. The pros wanted stocks that were cheap. That can be a $10 stock or a $100 stock â¿¿ what matters is whether the stock price still has room to grow. They scrutinized cash flow and debt levels to get an idea of what a company is really worth, no matter what the market might be saying. They liked stocks that paid dividends, which are cash payouts that companies can give to shareholders each quarter.

They tended to favor companies that have taken a thumping, either in their stock price or reputation. Picks include BP, still under the long shadow of the Gulf oil spill; Apple, which some fear has run out of hit products; and Big Lots, whose former CEO was accused of trading on inside information.

"The ones that are unloved on Wall Street and really beaten up," says Russell Croft, who, like almost everyone we interviewed, described his investment strategy as "contrarian." ''We like to really look at those."

Maybe that's why so many said they'd cheer for Wichita State in the real Final Four on Saturday. Didn't know that Wichita State was in the tournament? Yeah, most fans weren't expecting that either.

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