Betting against the herd is a popular strategy in theory but one that very few investors are able to successfully execute. Beyond it just being tough mentally to sublimate your fear, most out of favor companies got that way by having genuine fundamental problems. Getting long solely because no sane person would ever buy a stock isn't a way to win.
According to Todd Salamone of Schaeffer's Investment Research the general pessimism surrounding the economy in 2012 has left some tremendous stock stories hidden in plain site; specifically in the consumer discretionary (XLY) and housing sectors.
Salamone's favorite example of an unloved winner is Sherwin-Williams (SHW). The paint kingpin is up nearly 100% in the last 12 months despite the fact that the housing recovery remains largely hypothetical. Regardless, Salamone says Sherwin has "been beating estimates quarter after quarter", much to the chagrin of the bears. With the analyst community leaning against the stock, heavy short-interest, and an almost perfect chart, Salamone sees further gains in Sherwin's future. He suggests calls may be the way to play for those looking to get aggressive.
Salamone is looking at the specialty retailers as another group with a spread between conventional wisdom and reality. Gap (GPS), Macy's (M), Limited (LTD) and Tiffany's (TIF) are all unloved by the "smarts" but poised for more gains in his view.
There's every reason in the world to expect some fundamental headwinds for consumer sectors and stocks in the coming months. Based on the year to date there's little reason to think the stocks are going to collapse at the first sign of trouble. After the gains to date, these stocks may not be the pure contrarian ideas they were at the beginning of 2012, but that makes them a little more safe for those looking to be brave without getting reckless.