Essent (ESNT - Get Report) has had superb gains of about 50% from its February lows, prompting analysts at research firm Bank of America Merrill Lynch to discuss booking profits.

Essent, which offers credit protection to lenders and mortgage investors, trades at nearly 10 times one-year forward earnings, more expensive than peers such as MGIC Investment, NMI Holdings and Radian, all of which are pegged at 8 to 9 times one-year forward earnings.

Essent's trajectory has been a meandering path, hitting both highs and lows.

Last year, after rising to records the stock ended the year with a nearly 15% loss.

Although Essent's management is ready to keep the momentum going, this specialty finance company isn't really an attractive long-term proposition at these prices.

Granted, this has been a recovery year for Essent, but then most of that ascent is behind it.

The landscape for the business as a whole has undergone a transformation. After 2008's housing crisis, underwriting standards are now stringently crafted, making new, emerging businesses acutely aware of the risks and well-managed.

The default rate in the private mortgage insurance industry is low, even as pricing concerns are pushing companies to cut rates in a bid to garner market share.

Trimmed of excess, the segment seems stable and secure. However, recent transactions highlight Essent's inevitable plateau.

The $3.4 billion offered by Arch Capital for AIG's United Guaranty represented 9.5 times 2015 earnings per share, according to BTIG.

When that firm applied the same multiple to 2018 earnings estimates for Essent, the upside was just 5%.

Bigger potential gainers are as MGIC Investment, NMI Holdings and Radian, where investors stand to receive upside of 30% to 60%.

Essent could obviously receive higher multiples than sluggish rivals, with a valuation that already factors in the fast-growth promise.

In fact, the more diversified Genworth is trading at 5.33 times forward earnings.

Essent's 18.38% annual earnings-per-share growth potential is better than that of Radian (13.45%) or MGIC Investment (just 1.97%). But, the window for giant-sized movements is limited.

In fact, Essent's golden run may now be at a close. 

The nine analysts offering 12-month price forecasts for Essent have a median one-year price target of $29, which would represent a less than 9% increase. Meanwhile, Essent's peers have price targets representing gains of 15%-plus for MGIC Investment and 18%-plus for NMI Holdings and Radian.

Although the business model is stable, competition and Essent's rich valuation will eventually have a downward effect on the stock price.

But Essent's business remains strong, so investors could profit short term by buying on the dips.

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The author is an independent contributor who at the time of publication owned none of the stocks mentioned.