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It's been a relatively tepid year so far for shareholders of Morningstar ( MORN), the $3 billion investment research provider. Shares of the firm have only jumped 2.2% year-to-date in 2012, versus returns of 7.1% for the broad market.

So will Morningstar be able to make up the lost ground? That certainly looks to be the case.

A lot has changed at Morningstar since it was founded in 1984 as a repository of mutual fund research. While mutual funds are still what the company is known for, Morningstar has carved out an attractive niche as a stock research, investor education, and personal finance site -- but the firm's foray into credit ratings have particular potential. The firm, after all, is one of the few that already has the scale to compete with stalwarts like Moody's for a piece of the ratings market.

Morningstar's subscription model has been good to the company's coffers, driving stair-step revenue growth and the double-digit net margins investors have come to expect from the financial data industry. While a more serious foray into credit ratings won't be cheap, the company's debt-free balance sheet and ample cash reserves should be an offsetting factor for investors.

>>5 Small-Cap Growth Stocks With Zero Debt

A short interest ratio of 11.1 means that it would take more than two weeks for short sellers to cover their positions in this stock. Earnings on Feb. 15 are the next big upside catalyst for shares.

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