NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The past few years have been good for investment banks. After the Great Recession, investment banking firms raised more capital, refocused efforts on traditional advising and underwriting activities, and some diversified into wealth management. There has been much IPO activity and merger and acquisition deals over the past few years; as they continue to pick up the pace, revenues and headcounts in the industry will solidify and increase.

With financial assets in the trillions (Banking assets $14.45 trillion and Pension assets $18.9 trillion), rising financial wealth due to rising stock prices, and a growing economy, the brokerage companies have a bright future.

So, what are the best investment banks and brokerage companies investors should be buying? Here are the top five, according to TheStreet Ratings, TheStreet's proprietary ratings tool.

TheStreet Ratings projects a stock's total return potential over a 12-month period including both price appreciation and dividends. Based on 32 major data points, TheStreet Ratings uses a quantitative approach to rating over 4,300 stocks to predict return potential for the next year. The model is both objective, using elements such as volatility of past operating revenues, financial strength, and company cash flows, and subjective, including expected equities market returns, future interest rates, implied industry outlook and forecasted company earnings.

Buying an S&P 500 stock that TheStreet Ratings rated a "buy" yielded a 16.56% return in 2014 beating the S&P 500 Total Return Index by 304 basis points. Buying a Russell 2000 stock that TheStreet Ratings rated a "buy" yielded a 9.5% return in 2014, beating the Russell 2000 index, including dividends reinvested, by 460 basis points last year.

Check out which investment banks and brokerage companies made the list. And when you're done be sure to read about which online retail and e-commerce companies to buy now. Year-to-date returns are based on May 12, 2015 closing prices. The highest-rated stock appears last -- read more to see which one is No. 1.

RJF ChartRJF data by YCharts
5. Raymond James Financial, Inc. (RJF)

Rating: A-

Market Cap: $7.9 billion
Year-to-date return: .42%

Raymond James Financial, Inc., a financial holding company, through its subsidiaries, engages in the underwriting, distribution, trading, and brokerage of equity and debt securities, as well as the sale of mutual funds and other investment products in the United States, Canada, and Europe.

"We rate RAYMOND JAMES FINANCIAL CORP (RJF) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, solid stock price performance, growth in earnings per share and increase in net income. Although no company is perfect, currently we do not see any significant weaknesses which are likely to detract from the generally positive outlook."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • RJF's revenue growth has slightly outpaced the industry average of 5.4%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 9.0%. This growth in revenue appears to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, improving the earnings per share.
  • The stock has not only risen over the past year, it has done so at a faster pace than the S&P 500, reflecting the earnings growth and other positive factors similar to those we have cited here. Turning our attention to the future direction of the stock, it goes without saying that even the best stocks can fall in an overall down market. However, in any other environment, this stock still has good upside potential despite the fact that it has already risen in the past year.
  • RAYMOND JAMES FINANCIAL CORP has improved earnings per share by 6.9% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. The company has demonstrated a pattern of positive earnings per share growth over the past two years. We feel that this trend should continue. During the past fiscal year, RAYMOND JAMES FINANCIAL CORP increased its bottom line by earning $3.32 versus $2.58 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($3.55 versus $3.32).
  • The company, on the basis of net income growth from the same quarter one year ago, has significantly underperformed compared to the Capital Markets industry average, but is greater than that of the S&P 500. The net income increased by 8.5% when compared to the same quarter one year prior, going from $104.56 million to $113.46 million.

AMTD ChartAMTD data by YCharts
4. TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation (AMTD)

Rating: A-

Market Cap: $20 billion
Year-to-date return: 2.8%

TD Ameritrade Holding Corporation provides securities brokerage services and related technology-based financial services to retail investors, traders, and independent registered investment advisors (RIAs) in the United States.

"We rate TD AMERITRADE HOLDING CORP (AMTD) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its expanding profit margins, notable return on equity and solid stock price performance. We feel its strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • TD AMERITRADE HOLDING CORP reported flat earnings per share in the most recent quarter. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, TD AMERITRADE HOLDING CORP increased its bottom line by earning $1.42 versus $1.22 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($1.48 versus $1.42).
  • 42.47% is the gross profit margin for TD AMERITRADE HOLDING CORP which we consider to be strong. Regardless of AMTD's high profit margin, it has managed to decrease from the same period last year. Despite the mixed results of the gross profit margin, AMTD's net profit margin of 23.66% compares favorably to the industry average.
  • AMTD, with its decline in revenue, slightly underperformed the industry average of 5.4%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly dropped by 1.5%. Weakness in the company's revenue seems to not be hurting the bottom line, shown by stable earnings per share.
  • The company's current return on equity has slightly decreased from the same quarter one year prior. This implies a minor weakness in the organization. Compared to other companies in the Capital Markets industry and the overall market, TD AMERITRADE HOLDING CORP's return on equity exceeds that of both the industry average and the S&P 500.
  • Looking at where the stock is today compared to one year ago, we find that it is not only higher, but it has also clearly outperformed the rise in the S&P 500 over the same period, despite the company's weak earnings results. Looking ahead, the stock's rise over the last year has already helped drive it to a level which is relatively expensive compared to the rest of its industry. We feel, however, that the other strengths this company displays justify these higher price levels.
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GS ChartGS data by YCharts
3. The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (GS)

Rating: A-

Market Cap: $90.4 billion
Year-to-date return: 3.5%

The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. operates as an investment banking, securities, and investment management company worldwide. The company operates through four segments: Investment Banking, Institutional Client Services, Investing & Lending, and Investment Management.

"We rate GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP INC (GS) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, solid stock price performance, impressive record of earnings per share growth, compelling growth in net income and attractive valuation levels. Although the company may harbor some minor weaknesses, we feel they are unlikely to have a significant impact on results."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • GS's revenue growth has slightly outpaced the industry average of 5.4%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 8.0%. Growth in the company's revenue appears to have helped boost the earnings per share.
  • Powered by its strong earnings growth of 47.76% and other important driving factors, this stock has surged by 26.92% over the past year, outperforming the rise in the S&P 500 Index during the same period. Regarding the stock's future course, although almost any stock can fall in a broad market decline, GS should continue to move higher despite the fact that it has already enjoyed a very nice gain in the past year.
  • GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP INC has improved earnings per share by 47.8% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. The company has demonstrated a pattern of positive earnings per share growth over the past two years. We feel that this trend should continue. During the past fiscal year, GOLDMAN SACHS GROUP INC increased its bottom line by earning $17.07 versus $15.47 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($19.30 versus $17.07).
  • The company, on the basis of net income growth from the same quarter one year ago, has significantly outperformed against the S&P 500 and exceeded that of the Capital Markets industry average. The net income increased by 39.9% when compared to the same quarter one year prior, rising from $2,033.00 million to $2,844.00 million.

SCHW ChartSCHW data by YCharts
2. The Charles Schwab Corporation (SCHW)

Rating: A

Market Cap: $41.7 billion
Year-to-date return: 5.2%

The Charles Schwab Corporation, through its subsidiaries, provides wealth management, securities brokerage, banking, money management, and financial advisory services. The company operates through two segments, Investor Services and Advisor Services.

"We rate SCHWAB (CHARLES) CORP (SCHW) a BUY. This is based on the convergence of positive investment measures, which should help this stock outperform the majority of stocks that we rate. The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its revenue growth, expanding profit margins and solid stock price performance. We feel its strengths outweigh the fact that the company has had sub par growth in net income."

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • Despite its growing revenue, the company underperformed as compared with the industry average of 5.4%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 3.0%. This growth in revenue does not appear to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, displayed by a decline in earnings per share.
  • SCHWAB (CHARLES) CORP's earnings per share declined by 8.3% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, SCHWAB (CHARLES) CORP increased its bottom line by earning $0.96 versus $0.78 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($1.04 versus $0.96).
  • 35.98% is the gross profit margin for SCHWAB (CHARLES) CORP which we consider to be strong. Regardless of SCHW's high profit margin, it has managed to decrease from the same period last year. Despite the mixed results of the gross profit margin, the net profit margin of 19.47% trails the industry average.
  • Looking at where the stock is today compared to one year ago, we find that it is not only higher, but it has also clearly outperformed the rise in the S&P 500 over the same period, despite the company's weak earnings results. Looking ahead, the stock's rise over the last year has already helped drive it to a level which is relatively expensive compared to the rest of its industry. We feel, however, that the other strengths this company displays justify these higher price levels.
  • The company's current return on equity has slightly decreased from the same quarter one year prior. This implies a minor weakness in the organization. Compared to other companies in the Capital Markets industry and the overall market on the basis of return on equity, SCHWAB (CHARLES) CORP has outperformed in comparison with the industry average, but has underperformed when compared to that of the S&P 500.
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LAZ ChartLAZ data by YCharts
1. Lazard Ltd (LAZ)

Rating: A+

Market Cap: $7.1 billion
Year-to-date return: 10.3%

Lazard Ltd, together with its subsidiaries, operates as a financial advisory and asset management firm.

Highlights from the analysis by TheStreet Ratings Team goes as follows:

  • LAZ's revenue growth has slightly outpaced the industry average of 5.4%. Since the same quarter one year prior, revenues slightly increased by 8.4%. This growth in revenue does not appear to have trickled down to the company's bottom line, displayed by a decline in earnings per share.
  • The company's current return on equity greatly increased when compared to its ROE from the same quarter one year prior. This is a signal of significant strength within the corporation. Compared to other companies in the Capital Markets industry and the overall market, LAZARD LTD's return on equity significantly exceeds that of both the industry average and the S&P 500.
  • Compared to where it was a year ago today, the stock is now trading at a higher level, regardless of the company's weak earnings results. Looking ahead, unless broad bear market conditions prevail, we still see more upside potential for this stock, despite the fact that it has already risen over the past year.
  • LAZARD LTD's earnings per share declined by 31.1% in the most recent quarter compared to the same quarter a year ago. This company has reported somewhat volatile earnings recently. But, we feel it is poised for EPS growth in the coming year. During the past fiscal year, LAZARD LTD increased its bottom line by earning $3.21 versus $1.21 in the prior year. This year, the market expects an improvement in earnings ($3.60 versus $3.21).
  • The gross profit margin for LAZARD LTD is currently lower than what is desirable, coming in at 26.98%. Regardless of LAZ's low profit margin, it has managed to increase from the same period last year. Despite the mixed results of the gross profit margin, LAZ's net profit margin of 9.42% is significantly lower than the industry average.
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