September was depressing to say the least, with the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq losing 4.2%, 4.8% and 5.6%, respectively -- a clear indication that larger-cap stocks are bearing the brunt of the market turmoil, as various issues related to the supply chain, inflation, the Fed, the debt ceiling and so on came to a head. The fact that we’re in between earnings seasons also isn’t helping the market, although third-quarter beat-and-raises are unlikely to be as attractive as the second. And all the disappointment is despite the fact that we have a robust manufacturing sector, a return of the services sector, a likely strong holiday season and a receding of the Delta variant. So obviously, when money is pulling out of the big names, it’s getting invested elsewhere. That’s what I thought of exploring today with some really safe stocks. I have been avoiding large-cap names for the most part this month and the group I’ve chosen today is no different. These players fall in the small and mid-cap segment and have some broader market-related positives going for them. They also have the distinction of a Zacks #1 or #2 rank, Value and Growth Scores of A or B. They pay a dividend that has been growing in the recent past. What’s more, brokers seem to like them. So let’s get started. As a result of the reopening, there were notable job gains across the professional and business services, transportation and warehousing, and private education segments in August. Infection rates going down, manufacturing and industrial activity remaining robust, the services sector picking up and new job openings continuing to rise are highly conducive market conditions for workforce solutions providers, whether engaged in the supply of office products or staffing. Schools are also reopening, with an increasing number of students opting for in-person education most of the time, which is a positive for companies offering supplies to both schools and offices. A couple of stocks to tap this potential are ACCO and MAN. They are followed by KBR, which is a solid bet because of its end market focus, steady cash flows and visibility. Then comes FAF, which is all about data and digitization momentum, followed by KT, which is the dominant telecom player in South Korea undergoing massive digital transformation. Acco Brands Corp. ( ACCO Quick Quote ACCO - Free Report) ACCO Brands designs, manufactures, and markets consumer, school, technology and office products. It operates through the North America, EMEA and International segments. Some of its popular brands are AT-A-GLANCE, Barrilito, Derwent, Esselte, Five Star, Foroni, GBC, Hilroy, Kensington, Leitz, Marbig, Mead, NOBO, PowerA, Quartet, Rapid, Rexel, Swingline, Tilibra, TruSens, Spirax, and Wilson Jones. The company has its own direct sales force and ecommerce platform, but also sells through mass retailers; e-tailers; discount, drug/grocery and variety chains; warehouse clubs; hardware and specialty stores; independent office product dealers; office superstores; wholesalers; contract stationers; and technology specialty businesses. The Zacks Rank #2 (Buy) company is undergoing a strategic transformation of its business toward faster-growing consumer-centric categories, which along with reopening demand and the recently-acquired PowerA business drove strong results across segments and geographies in the June quarter. As a result, the company beat estimates by 59.3% with estimates also edging higher. ACCO is seeing significant opportunities in both existing and new categories that it is well positioned to tap going forward. Analysts expect 98.6% earnings growth this year followed by 12.5% growth in the next. This is expected to come on revenue growth of 22.5% and 4.3%, respectively. It recently named its North America head as the President and Chief Operating Officer of the company. Zacks has a Value Score of A and Growth Score of B on the shares, indicating that they are a solid buy for investors looking for capital appreciation. There’s also a dividend that yields 2.95% and represents a 5-year historical dividend growth 3.5%. Brokers also like this stock given that the average broker rating of 1.25 translates to a Strong Buy rating from them. A Price/Sales valuation yields a 0.46X multiple, which indicates that investors are currently undervaluing its sales. ManpowerGroup Inc. ( MAN Quick Quote MAN - Free Report) ManpowerGroup is one of the leading providers of innovative workforce solutions and services across the world. The company has a well-established network of 2,500 offices in 75 countries and territories. The company provides a wide range of staffing solutions as well as engagement and consulting services through its four major brands - Manpower (contingent staffing and permanent recruitment), ManpowerGroup Solutions (outsourcing services for large-scale recruiting) and Experis (Professional Resourcing and project-based workforce solutions). Two-thirds of revenue comes from Europe (44% in the South and 22% in the North), Americas accounts for a fifth (21%) with the balance coming from Asia Pacific & Middle East (APME) (13%). The Zacks Rank #2 company recently surveyed 42,000 employers across 43 countries, finding that 69% of employers globally (a 15-year high) are having difficulty hiring skilled workers across many industries. The difficulty seems to be the greatest in the U.S., with 73% of employers reporting difficulties, compared to the global average of 69%. Also, employers report the highest fourth-quarter hiring prospects than all other countries with IT expected to be the strongest, followed by financial services and then transportation and utilities. Management believes that the difficulty is partly related to a skills gap, and partly to pandemic related issues, such as healthcare and child care concerns that should be alleviated before long. Digitization and structural changes to the labor market are likely to remain longer term issues. This means hiring of skilled talent and supporting people to reskill and upskill for growth roles will be a driver of demand into the foreseeable future. No wonder, then, that MAN beat June quarter expectations by 42.3% with estimates climbing higher thereafter. Nor is it surprising that analysts currently expect earnings growth of 93.2% in 2021 and 20.9% in 2022 coming on revenue growth of 16.0% and 4.9%, respectively. The shares carry Zacks Value and Growth Scores of A, and if you’re still not convinced, there’s a dividend that yields 2.3%. The 5-year historical dividend growth is 7.5%. The average broker rating of 1.78 translates to a Buy rating. The P/S multiple is just 0.3X, indicating that this may be a good time to jump in. KBR, Inc. ( KBR Quick Quote KBR - Free Report) KBR is a global engineering, construction and services firm, with a focus on global energy and government services. It currently operates in 40+ countries, serving customers in 80+ countries. Its two main business segments are Government Solutions (GS) and Sustainable Technology Solutions (STS). GS, accounting for 70% of revenues, focuses exclusively on long-term service contracts for the United Kingdom, Australian and the U.S. governments that generate annuity-like revenues. STS, accounting for the rest, comprises an advisory practice for energy transition and net-zero carbon emission consulting; technology-led industrial solutions for innovative digital operation and maintenance; and advanced remote operations capabilities to improve throughput, reliability and environmental sustainability. KBR is well positioned in important market segments involving national security, defense modernization, energy transition and sustainability. And the nature of the business calls for long-term agreements. Therefore, there is growth on the one hand and stability on the other. Management is also transitioning the business away from lower-margin high-volume business with the goal of meeting longer-term targets. In the last quarter, the company did very well on that objective on the back of solid revenue growth, improved profitability, a growing backlog of orders and strong cash flows. As a result, the cash guidance for the year was raised. The solid cash flows are a key reason for investing in this stock. Estimates for 2021 and 2022 have moved higher after the Zacks Rank #2 company reported solid June quarter results, which beat the Zacks Consensus Estimate by 20.8%. Analysts currently expect earnings growth of 24.9% this year on revenue growth of 4.9%. For 2022, they currently expect revenue and earnings to grow a respective 4.9% and 12.7%. Zacks has Value and Growth Scores of B on the stock, so they should be attractive to pretty much everybody. And there’s also a dividend that yields 1.12%. The 5-year historical dividend growth is 6.4%. The average broker rating of 1.50 translates to a Buy rating on the shares. At 0.95X P/S, the shares are trading close to their fair value. So if you want a piece of the action, there’s not much time to lose. First American Financial Corp. ( FAF Quick Quote FAF - Free Report) Headquartered in Santa Ana, CA, First American Financial serves homebuyers and sellers, real estate professionals, loan originators and servicers, commercial property professionals, homebuilders and others involved in residential and commercial property transactions with products and services specific to their needs. The core business lines include title insurance and closing/settlement services; property data and automated title plant records and images; home warranty products; property and casualty insurance; banking, trust and wealth management services; and other related products and services. It also offers banking services via First American Trust that enhances agents’ efficiency and lowers risk. First American provides financial services through its Title Insurance and Services segment (92% revenue share) and its Specialty Insurance segment (8%). The company’s data assets comprise a competitive differentiator, helping both revenue generation and profitability. The current building phase (to be completed by year-end) will bring around 80% of all real estate transactions into its databases. It is already capturing virtually every data point on 7.5 million documents per month, up from around 5 million last quarter. This is expected to facilitate the automation of underwriting decisions, while moving manual processes online. Additionally, it is developing cloud-based digital productivity tools like IgniteRE and ClarityFirst that are designed to help client operations and expand relationships. #2 ranked FAF posted strong second quarter earnings, beating expectations by 30.7%, which was followed by upward revision in 2021 and 2022 estimates. Analysts currently expect revenue and earnings to grow a respective 12.0% and 28.3% this year. While a decline in revenue and earnings is expected next year, this may not ultimately materialize and even if it does, it’s worth noting that both revenue and earnings have been growing exponentially since the pandemic first hit. So they are very unlikely to fall below 2019 levels. The Zacks Value Score of A and Growth Score of B support investment in the shares, as does the dividend, which currently yields 3.02%. The 5-year historical dividend growth 7.1%. Brokers are also positive about this stock and the average broker rating of 1.67 represents a Buy rating. At a P/S multiple of 0.89, the shares aren’t expensive. KT Corp. ( KT Quick Quote KT - Free Report) Seoul-based KT Corp. is South Korea’s largest telecom company. Its core business includes mobile services (5G, 4G LTE and 3G W-CDMA), where it has a market share of 31.6%; fixed-line and VoIP telephone services, where it has a market share of 56.8%; and broadband Internet access services, where its market share was 41.1% as of Dec 2020. Ancillary/other business includes media and content services, including IPTV, satellite TV, digital music services, e-commerce services, online advertising consulting services and digital comics and novels services; financial services, including credit card processing and other financial services; IT and network services and rental of real estate by KT Estate; and sale of handsets and miscellaneous telecom equipment, as well as residential units and commercial real estate developed by KT Estate. Mobile services comprised 28% of revenue, fixed-line 20%, media and content services 11%, financial services 14%, other services 13% and goods sales (mainly handsets) the balance. The company is transforming itself into a massive digital platform encompassing financial, commercial and content channels. In the last quarter, the transition of its B2B business to a subscription model remained on track. The business grew 6.2% with the company pursuing new opportunities like AI robots. The traditional telecom business didn’t falter either. Subs were up 533K, ARPU increased 3% while broadband revenue increased 2.1%. This is a very stable company, being one of only three major operators in the region. Its dividend yields 3.74% and its 5-year historical growth is 6.1%. The Zacks Rank #2 stock with a Value Score of A, Growth Score of Bis expected to grow earnings 36.0% this year. Brokers agree on its solid prospects. Their average rating of 1.00 translates to a Strong Buy recommendation. Valuation of 0.31X P/S is another attraction.