"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. 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. TheStreet.com 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. TheStreet.com Ratings increased the stock to "buy" on May 8.
Earnings in the three months through March surprised investors. Revenue rose only 9%, yet earnings per share surged 77%. Despite that impressive performance, its stock remains undervalued. At its current price, California First National is trading at a discount based on earnings and book value in the specialized finance industry. With a price-to-earnings ratio of about 15, it's 60% cheaper than its average rival. The stock also offers a dividend yield of 4.21%, higher than the S&P 500 Index's 3.43%. It's just the type of company a larger financial-services firm would like to buy to expand its leasing portfolio. TSC Ratings provides exclusive stock, ETF and mutual fund ratings and commentary based on award-winning, proprietary tools. Its "safety first" approach to investing aims to reduce risk while seeking solid outperformance on a total return basis.