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Alsin's Top Ten for 2010: Part 1

Arne Alsin's first of his three-part 2010 preview appeared Dec. 8 on RealMoney . Click here for a free trial, and enjoy incisive commentary all day, every day.

Up by 91% since it was posted last December, my top 10 list for 2009 has run circles around the S&P 500 index, which returned 26% for the same period. While it's impossible to predict performance for my new top 10, there is reason for optimism. There continues to be a massive disparity between price and value in many smaller companies. And so, like last year, the top 10 list for 2010 will be filled with smaller companies.

In this, the first of three installments, I'll recommend companies in banking, apparel and food products. While their respective market caps range from $150 million to $400 million, I expect each will grow to at least $1 billion in market value in the coming years.

Metro Bancorp (METR): Everybody in the galaxy (and beyond) is afraid of small bank stocks, making it fertile ground for bargain-hunting. Also, it's worth rummaging through this sector because consolidation and closure have shuttered a lot of capacity. It sets the stage for a growth-oriented small bank like Metro, based in Philadelphia.

Metro was founded in 1985 as a franchisee of Commerce Bancorp. It became independent when parent company Commerce Bank was sold to Toronto Dominion bank in 2007. Metro is in the final stages of acquiring Republic First Bancorp (FRBK) and, upon completion, the bank will have 45 branches. It currently sells at 75% of book value.

Metro stock is especially compelling because of its a long-term growth potential. Many of its executives are from Commerce Bank, a bank that grew in value from $200 million to $4 billion in 15 years, through deposit growth that averaged nearly 25% per year. Through exceptional branch convenience and service (longer hours, better sites and so on), and a unique culture, Metro has a chance to grab large chunks of market share. Using the same strategy, Commerce grew its market share in Philadelphia from 1.6% in 1995 to 11.4% in 2008. That's the sort of opportunity Metro is contemplating today, and, if successful, shareholders will benefit handsomely.

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