Each business day, TheStreet.com Ratings TheStreet.com Ratings compiles a list of the top five stocks in one of five categories -- fast-growth, all-around value, large-cap, mid-cap and small-cap -- based on data from the close of the previous trading session. Today, small-cap stocks are in the spotlight.These are stocks of companies that have market capitalizations of between $50 million and $500 million that rank near the top of all stocks rated by our proprietary quantitative model, which looks at more than 60 factors. The stocks must also be followed by at least one financial analyst who posts estimates on the Institutional Brokers' Estimate System. They are ordered by their potential to appreciate. Note that no provision is made for off-balance-sheet assets such as unrealized appreciation/depreciation of investments, market value of real estate or contingent liabilities that might affect book value. This could be material for some companies with large underfunded pension plans. American Physicians Service Group ( AMPH - Get Report) is an insurance and financial services firm. Its subsidiaries and affiliates provide medical malpractice insurance, as well as brokerage and investment services to institutions and high net worth individuals. American Physicians Service has been rated a buy since May 2003. This rating is supported by several positive factors, including its largely solid financial position, notable return on equity, expanding profit margins, good cash flow from operations, and growth in earnings per share. For the third quarter of fiscal 2008, the company reported that its EPS improved 35.6% year over year, rising from 73 cents to 99 cents. This continues a trend of positive EPS growth over the past two years. Return on equity improved slightly when compared to the same quarter one year prior, rising from 14.4% to 17%, while net operating cash flow increased significantly, rising 264.7% to $7.5 million. In addition, the company's debt-to-equity is very low at 0.06, implying there has been very successful management of debt levels.
Management acknowledged that the company's Financial Services business has been affected by overall market turmoil, but pointed out that it was able to achieve strong earnings and cash flow results while sticking with its conservative policies in regards to underwriting, reserving, and investing. The company was also able to work toward expanding its business during the quarter, with the number of policy holders increasing 6%. The company undertook cost-cutting measures and will continue to adjust its business in order achieve profitability. Although no company is perfect, we do not currently see any significant weaknesses that are likely to detract from American Physicians Service Group's generally positive outlook. NCI ( NCIT) is a provider of information technology (IT) services and solutions to U.S. federal government agencies. The company focuses on designing, implementing, maintaining, and upgrading IT systems and networks. NCI has been rated a buy since February 2008 based on its healthy growth in revenue and net income, solid stock price performance, impressive record of EPS growth, and return on equity. For the third quarter of fiscal 2008, the company reported revenue growth of 18.7% year over year. This growth represents record revenue results for the company, and appears to have trickled down to NCI's bottom line, improving EPS by 28%. EPS increased from 25 cents in the third quarter of fiscal 2007 to 32 cents in the most recent quarter. Net income also increased, rising 31.6% from $3.3 million to $4.4 million. Return on equity improved slightly from 16.2% to 16.6%. NCI's strong earnings growth has helped the stock price climb higher over the past year.
Management announced that it was pleased with what it considered excellent quarterly results and considers NCI well-placed in its markets and with its customers for fiscal 2009. The company is confident about its business model and plans to continue with its strategic plan of focusing on organic growth supplemented with strategic acquisitions that generate long-term, sustainable value. While an overall down market can negatively affect any stock, we feel that the company has good upside potential in any other market, despite the fact that it has already risen in the past year. In addition, we believe that the strengths detailed above outweigh the fact that the company shows low profit margins. Balchem ( BCPC - Get Report) develops, manufactures and markets specialty performance ingredients and products for the food, feed and mechanical sterilization industries. Balchem produces choline products for both human and animal consumption. Our buy rating for Balchem has not changed since June 2003. Our rating is supported by the company's solid stock price performance and growth in revenue, net income, and earnings per share. The company reported on Oct. 30 that its revenue increased 15.3% year over year in the third quarter of fiscal 2008. Although this was a lower level of growth than the Chemicals industry average of 24.4%, the growth appears to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, helping to boost EPS, which improved slightly from 24 cents in the third quarter of fiscal 2007 to 25 cents in the most recent quarter. Net income increased 7.5% when compared to the same quarter a year ago, rising from $4.5 million to a record $4.8 million. Earnings growth and other important factors have also helped drive up the price of Balchem's stock over the past year. In addition, net sales increased 15.3% year over year.
Management announced that its strong third quarter results were the result of the company's diversified business. Due to strategic acquisitions and cross business motivation and integration, Balchem has been able to increase its global presence, helping to counteract difficult economic conditions, particularly in the U.S. market. Rising raw materials costs have negatively impacted the company's financials recently, but the company expects to see some relief from those high costs on some key raw materials in the near future. A slight decrease in return on equity in the third quarter can be viewed as a minor weakness for Balchem, but we feel that the strengths detailed about outweigh any potential issues from the company's low profit margins at this time. Tompkins Financial ( TMP - Get Report) is the corporate parent of three community banks: Tompkins Trust Company, The Bank of Castile, and Mahopac National Bank. Its three banks primarily offer commercial banking services to individuals and businesses throughout New York state. We have rated Tompkins Financial a buy since October 2007 on the basis of its notable return on equity, expanding profit margins, increased revenue, and solid stock price performance. For the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008, the company reported slight revenue growth of 3.3% year over year. However, a decline in EPS indicates that this increase did not trickle down to the company's bottom line, with EPS coming slightly below of that of the prior year's quarter. All the same, we feel that the company remains poised for higher earnings in the coming year, despite its somewhat volatile results of late. Return on equity improved somewhat during the quarter, rising from 13.4% to 13.7%, and as a result can be viewed as a modest strength for Tompkins Financial.
Management was pleased with the company's results for full year fiscal 2008 and expects the company to be in a strong position for success in fiscal 2009. While Tompkin Financial's stock is currently trading at a premium valuation compared to its peers, we feel that the company's strengths outweigh any potential weakness at this time. Aceto ( ACET) engages in sourcing, quality assurance, regulatory support, marketing, and distribution of chemically derived pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, specialty chemicals, and crop protection products. We have rated Aceto a buy since August 2008. Our rating is based on a variety of strengths, including the company's impressive record of EPS growth and its largely solid financial position. For the first quarter of fiscal 2009, the company announced quarterly sales of $93.8 million, an increase of 18% year over year. With a continued focus on cost containment and a shift in business mix contributed to a close to 200 basis point expansion in gross margin to 20.2% in the most recent period versus 18.3% a year earlier. Aceto's first quarter net income rose by over 250% when compared to the same quarter a year ago. This growth in turn helped boost EPS, which improved from 5 cents in the first quarter of fiscal 2008 to 18 cents in the most recent quarter. This continued a pattern of positive EPS growth demonstrated by Aceto over the past two years. Management reported that sales growth in both the health sciences and chemicals and colorants segments (up 21.3% and 19.2% year over year, respectively) more than offset a 23.2% decrease in crop protection sales. The strength in the Health Sciences segment was attributed mainly to increased sales from foreign operations -- particularly in Europe -- and to increases in domestic generic and nutritional products. Sales growth in chemicals and colorants experienced good growth in pigments, dyes, and miscellaneous intermediates, as well as a boost from foreign operations, according to management. One weakness in the company's results was relatively weak operating cash flow generation. However, with a very clean balance sheet and positive working capital, we feel the positives far outweigh any negatives for the company at this time.
Our quantitative rating, which can be viewed for any stock through our stock screener stock rating screener, is based on a variety of historical fundamental and pricing data and represents our opinion of a stock's risk-adjusted performance relative to other stocks. However, the rating does not incorporate all of the factors that can alter a stock's performance. For example, it doesn't always factor in recent corporate or industry events that could affect the stock price, nor does it include recent technology developments and competitive dynamics that may affect the company. For those reasons, we believe that a rating alone cannot tell the whole story and that it should be part of an investor's overall research.