Yes, the big three stock market indices -- the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq -- are all down over 20% so far this month. (Today alone, every one of the 30 stocks in the Dow fell.) But not every public company should be seen as off-limits right now.In fact, some of the most interesting investment plays in this market can come from the unlikeliest of places. If you're looking for a compelling value play and you're not risk-averse, some financials actually look good. Not so fast. There are some caveats, of course, to financials looking "good." There are lots of financial stocks I wouldn't invest in -- you know, those companies that saddled themselves with subprime and watched their stock prices plummet as execs tried to grasp the reigns. And those are the obvious ones. I also want to keep my distance (for now) from the big guys who've been making a business of swallowing up the sick ones. Let's face it: The financial stocks are a mess. Like I said, though, there are some attractive investments out there if you know where to look. And with some potential "pro-financial" news on the horizon, now is as good a time as any to consider investing in a select few financial stocks, if you've got the cash right now. The name of the game today is fundamentals. Stick with companies you understand and who you know can make money. Right now, there are a few criteria that eclipse the others: cash, balance sheet health, and business model. If I stumble across a company with cash coming in, enough assets to pay the bills if things get tough, and a business that's not going going to be extinct anytime soon, I'm interested. Small financials seem to offer just that right now.
Not only that, but financials have been beaten down so indiscriminately over the past couple of quarters that it's a value investor's smorgasbord right now. Just look at Premier Financial Bancorp ( PFBI). The micro-cap banking company is down around 17%, since the end of August, on "terrible" news like increased dividends and higher quarterly earnings. What? That's right. The stock's currently trading around $8, with a P/E around 6. But PFB's tiny size has meant that they've been thrown around by the waves that have been rippling in the financial world lately. BancTrust Financial Group ( BTFG) was a similar value story until investors caught on in September and sent the high-performing stock on a huge double-digit jump. There are other interesting financials out there too. Cheung Kong Holdings ( CHEUY) is an investment holding company based in Hong Kong that sports a strong balance sheet and impressive earnings growth -- a 53% increase from 2006 to 2007. But just because there are attractive financial plays out there, doesn't mean that old investment favorites like financial ETFs or index funds are a good idea in 2008. In fact, they're not. They tend to be weighted towards the big financials that I'm not crazy about right now. (Don't miss " Take a Pass on Passive Index Investing")