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Under-the-Radar Financial Stocks for Today

Stocks in this article: MKTX CFNB

"Under-the-Radar Stocks" is a daily feature that uncovers little-known companies worthy of investors' consideration. Check in at 5 every morning to find out about stocks that tend to beat their bigger brethren.

As anticipation builds for financial firms' second-quarter results, behemoths like Goldman Sachs (GS), Morgan Stanley (MS) and JPMorgan (JPM) are enjoying a run-up, rising as much as 110% over two months.

But smaller players due for similar gains are going unrecognized. The following micro-cap financials are worthy of recognition as each posted strong first-quarter performances that probably stretched into the current three-month period. Ratings

New York-based MarketAxess Holdings (MKTX) operates a platform for the electronic trading of fixed-income securities. The company's platform is accessed by broker-dealer and institutional clients, including Bank of America (BAC), Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan, each of which posted a surge in fixed-income trading revenue in the first quarter that accounted for the lion's share of profits. MarketAxess recently introduced real-time quotes for credit-default swaps, a market totaling tens of trillions of dollars. As money flows into the stock market, expect MarketAxess to get a piece of the action. Ratings upgraded the stock to "buy" on April 30.

The company's first-quarter revenue rose 7%, and earnings per share climbed 60%. MarketAxess boasts an ideal financial position. The firm holds $114 million in its cash balance and has no debt. Other investors have recognized that the company is in a unique position to profit from improved trading volume, so its stock is expensive. It currently trades at a price-to-earnings ratio of about 44, 16% more expensive than its average peer in the specialized finance industry. The stock has soared 79% in the past two months.

California National Bancorp (CFNB), based in Irvine, owns and operates leasing and banking subsidiaries, including California First Leasing Corp. and California First National Bank. The company took a beating in 2008 as its share price fell 32%, but has proved that its regional focus is recession-resistant. Ratings increased the stock to "buy" on May 8.

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