BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- Japan is at the onset of a massive period of rebuilding, in which many American companies will participate. Among them are construction-equipment firm Caterpillar ( CAT) and power-plant equipment designer General Electric ( GE).

But, two smaller companies, whose shares have recently climbed, include Chicago Bridge & Iron ( CBI) and Clean Harbors ( CLH). The two, which have market values of $3.8 billion and $2.5 billion, respectively, are Japan-rebuild plays that demand consideration. They have clean balance sheets and competent stewardship. Below is a closer look. Still, investors ought to do further research.

Chicago Bridge & Iron has been a top-performing stock in 2011, up 19% already. It is on the Conviction Buy List at Goldman Sachs, which has a $42 target on the stock. Construction and engineering equities fall into the category of late-cycle beneficiaries. Their businesses tend to thrive in maturing economic-growth cycles as demand for energy increases.

Given the economy's recent pickup and crude oil's spike, CB&I was already a favored momentum name. The recent turmoil in Japan offers another potential catalyst for the company's earnings in 2011 and 2012. Aside from Goldman, 14 other analysts rate CB&I "buy" and six rate it "hold." None rank the shares "sell."

CB&I's stock has a median price target of $42.07, implying 8% upside from current levels. The highest 12-month target comes from Citigroup, which expects the stock to advance 35% to $52.50. In contrast, Jefferies rates CB&I "hold", valuing the equity at $37.

On the basis of business fundamentals, there is reason for optimism. CB&I's adjusted fourth-quarter earnings advanced 55% to 63 cents, exceeding researchers' consensus forecast by 13%. Sales fell 8.7% to $948 million, missing consensus by 11%. CB&I's quarterly gross margin climbed from 14% to 15% and the operating margin expanded from 7.4% to 8.4%.

The balance sheet is outstanding relative to those of industrial peers. CB&I's cash balance rose 48% to $482 million in the latest quarter, for a quick ratio of 0.7, as debt fell 34% to $80 million, for a debt-to-equity ratio of just 0.1. Quarterly return on equity, at 19%, exceeded the industry average of 10% and the S&P 500 average of 13%. Return on assets, a measure of overall profitability, widened from 5.8% to 8.4%, signaling improved efficiency.

In spite of strong metrics, CB&I is a stock with sizable risks. Its capital-intensive business is leveraged to the economic growth cycle, so any decline or spike in worry pertaining to the economy could catalyze a rapid sell-off in its shares, given recent performance.

This threat is evident in the stock's beta value, a measure of market correlation, of 2.3. On up days, CB&I tends to magnify market gains and, on down days, it accentuates declines. In addition to analyst favor, the equity's valuation should mitigate this risk. CB&I's stock trades at a trailing earnings multiple of 18, a forward earnings multiple of 14 and a cash flow multiple of 13, discounts of 24%, 33% and 60% to construction and engineering industry averages.

CB&I's stock has managed to rise more than 9% so far in March in spite of unrest.

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1. Clean Harbors ( CLH) is an under-the-radar hedge for so-called black-swan events. The increasing frequency of unexpected market-moving phenomenon is a topic of debate in the financial community. Clean Harbors is a beneficiary of unforeseen natural disasters. Its business spiked due to Hurricane Katrina, the BP ( BP) spill and, now, investors expect contracts for the Japan clean-up.

Clean Harbors, founded in 1980 by Chief Executive Officer Alan McKim, has an emergency-services division with expertise in cleaning up chemical spills and infectious contaminants. It is a key growth division for the Norwell, Massachusetts-based company.

The division consults with governments, providing planning, logistics and project-management services. McKim disclosed to CNBC that his firm has already been contacted by Japanese officials.

Although Clean Harbors is technically a small-cap company, its participation in the aforementioned headline clean-up efforts has elevated it to the status of disaster-logistics go-to. Clean Harbors has grown its sales, net income and earnings per share 22%, 43% and 31% annually, on average, since 2008 and its stock delivered annualized gains of 13% over that span. Although Japan is the latest catalyst for the equity, global warming, and its resulting environmental volatility, could continue to provide Clean Harbors with lucrative global expansion opportunities.

Analysts have a positive, though not ebullient, view of the stock, with eight ranking it "buy" and six rating it "hold." None rank the shares "sell." The stock has a median target of $100.54, suggesting a 12-month rise of 7%. RBC Capital ranks it a "top pick" and forecasts an advance of 14% to $107. In contrast, Goldman Sachs ranks it "neutral", expecting a fall to $85.

Uncertainty plagues the stock as the scope of Japan's clean-up efforts are undisclosed as is Clean Harbors' depth of involvement. Goldman's "neutral" ranking is justifiable based on valuation. The stock costs 23-times forward earnings and 3.2-times book value.

Those multiples signify premiums to industry and peer averages. Still, Clean Harbors' recent business performance is praiseworthy. Its fourth-quarter adjusted earnings surged 71% to 88 cents, exceeding consensus by 11%. Sales grew 20% to $417 million, outperforming consensus by 6.7%. Profit margins improved, as well. The gross margin stretched from 27% to 30% and the operating margin widened from 8.2% past 10%, amplifying the bottom-line.

Unlike CB&I, Clean Harbors is comparatively uncorrelated to the market, with a beta value of 0.4. And it often gains on events, which negatively impact other equities. It has risen 2.5% in March as the S&P 500 fell 3.5%. Clean Harbors' quarterly return on equity improved to 16% from 5.7% in the year-earlier quarter, exceeding the industry average of 13% and the S&P 500 average of 13%. Its return on assets stretched from 2.6% to 8.1%, demonstrating improved efficiency. At quarter's end, Clean Harbors held $305 million of cash, for an ample quick ratio of 2.2, and $279 million of debt, for a reasonable debt-to-equity ratio of 0.4.

-- Written by Jake Lynch in Boston.

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