Finding true under-the-radar stocks that may provide some real value is a difficult process, and it usually doesn't lead to many choices for investors. Wall Street analysts get paid big bucks to cover mostly well-known stocks and provide this research to clients.
While it's nice to have a highly paid analyst's opinion on a stock, I prefer scouting out stocks that not many follow. The more highly followed a company is, the less likely there is to be inefficiencies in its share price to profit from. However, if you do your research on a company that isn't followed by analysts or investors, I believe there's a much greater opportunity for outsized profits.
That isn't an argument in support of the efficient markets theory, which states that no investor can beat the market. I think that great investors like David and Tom Gardner have proven this theory woefully inadequate. However, I will argue that an investor will have better luck finding inefficiencies in, say, American Software (Nasdaq: AMSWA ) than he or she would in Apple.
Speaking of American Software
Only three analysts from small research firms found the time to sit in on American Software's most recent conference call, in which the company reported a pretty good quarter. According to Yahoo! Finance, there are actually only two analyst ratings on the stock: a hold and a buy. American Software isn't a tremendous growth story, but it is a well-run company that has rewarded shareholders who stuck with the company after the Nasdaq collapse in 2000.
American Software develops and supports supply-driven software management and enterprise software solutions through its three business segments: supply chain management, enterprise resource planning and information technology consulting. Judging by the software provider's customer list, which reads like a who's who of the world's top companies, it is doing a pretty good job.
American Software's strength is its supply-chain management segment, which accounted for 55% of the company's revenue over its latest fiscal year. The majority of this revenue comes from its best performing subsidiary called Logility, which has more than 1,200 customers in about 74 countries. Companies from many sectors -- such as Avery Dennison, VF Corp, and Starbucks' (Nasdaq: SBUX ) operations in China -- use Logility products for business forecasting, inventory planning, as well as distribution planning.
An important acquisition
While American Software has been successful in growing its business organically, the strategic acquisition of mismanaged inventory optimization provider Optiant has added a very successful technology to a company that's more equipped to manage and integrate it. Founded by two Ph.D graduates from MIT, Optiant software technology helped transform the supply chain at many large and important enterprises such as Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) and Microsoft. However, the founders could never properly manage the finances or people aspects of the business. The acquisition allows Optiant to continue to innovate under the strong management and supervision of American Software.
Competition is certainly stiff in all of American Software's segments, and consolidation continues throughout the industry. Competitor JDA Software Group (Nasdaq: JDAS ) recently acquired a similar inventory optimization company, i2 Technologies. Smaller players like JDA, Manhattan Associates (Nasdaq: MANH ) , and American Software are trying to beef up a bit to better compete with full-service goliaths in the space, such as SAP (NYSE: SAP ) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL ) .
While competition is robust, American Software is in great financial shape and could possibility find a new home under the wings of one of these larger competitors. It has been profitable for 39 consecutive quarters, something that many companies can't say as a result of recent financial crisis. American Software also features a balance sheet with no debt and more than $50 million in cash and investments. In addition, the company has rewarded shareholders with a dividend for 30 straight quarters, a payment that is now yielding more than 5%.
With few followers on Wall Street and virtually no fanfare from the media, American Software is an interesting way to play the continued growth of the enterprise software space. While it is dwarfed in size by many competitors, American Software has found a niche in the supply-chain management sector, which has allowed the company to remain successful. It is not only helping companies become more efficient, but also astute investors who look for value under Wall Street's radar.
Want to read more about American Software? Add it to My Watchlist, which will find all of our Foolish analysis on this stock.