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Scratching Out Riches in Niches

This column was originally published on RealMoney on Sept. 19 at 11:00 a.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.

One way to get better selling prices is to sidestep the competition. You can sell boom boxes, MP3 players and TVs, competing directly with Wal-Mart (WMT) and Best Buy (BBY), or you can sell high-end customized entertainment systems and avoid competing head-on with the big boys.

Philadelphia Consolidated Holding Corp. (PHLY) is in the insurance business which, heaven knows, has its share of big players. It largely avoids direct competition, serving such niche markets as professional liability insurance for accountants and lawyers, boat dealers, bowling centers, camp operators, homeowner associations, religious organizations and specialty properties like hospitals, hotels and nursing homes.

There are few substitutes for its niche products, and it can generally charge good rates because it isn't competing head-on with major insurance companies. The bottom line: The company is doing well and its P/E is a reasonable 14. The stock is currently trading around $37, a tad less than its 52-week high of $37.64, which it hit earlier this month.

Let's look at how two guru strategies evaluate this well-run niche player.

The O'Neil Strategy

When I mentioned that the stock just hit its 52-week high, regular readers probably guessed that a strategy in which Philly rates highly is the one I base on William O'Neil's investment style. This strategy screens for stocks that have recently gone up and are ready to break out into new territory. It flags stocks trading within 15% of its 52-week high; Philly is only 2% away.

Another factor it looks at is EPS growth. EPS grew 61% in Philly's last-reported quarter when compared with the same quarter a year earlier, and over the past five years, earnings have grown 25% annually. These are excellent numbers.

Not only have earnings been growing, their growth has been fairly consistent -- there has been only one dip in the past five years.

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