Whether they're too conflicted, too optimistic, too caught up in protecting their jobs, or just too wrong, professional analysts don't inspire as much awe as they once did. But that doesn't mean they're all bad.
True, we Fools are among the first to call attention to Wall Street's empty promises and stinky scandals -- and we display a rather complete indifference to the upgrades and downgrades these "professionals" assign to stocks at a mind-numbing pace.
They're not all bad
In fairness, though, many analysts are indeed savvy stock pickers. The Wall Street Journal celebrates the best analysts and the best calls across industries annually. Even so, there's simply not enough transparency in the industry to know just who the best and worst analysts are. That's bad for the good analysts; they're unwittingly protecting the sheep.
Enter Motley Fool CAPS, our community-intelligence database, which tracks the "outperform" and "underperform" ratings that individual investors and pros alike assign to stocks. In turn, every stock and every investor earns a rating. That means we can finally answer the age-old question: Which analysts are better stock pickers than my grandmother?
Bet with the best
Well, one pro that's ranked high atop the CAPS charts (we're tracking its performance) is Cohen & Company, an investment bank and institutional research house headquartered in Philadelphia. As of this writing, Cohen & Company is ranked 312th overall in CAPS and 12th among professional analysts.
A ranking of 312 probably won't get you a title shot as a professional boxer, but with more than 22,000 participants in CAPS, Cohen's score puts it ahead of 98% of other investment portfolios.
The sweetest calls of 'em all
The firm's recent big winners have included Gramercy Capital
If you're looking to piggyback on some newer picks, however, know that Cohen most recently rewarded outperform ratings to Willshire Bancorp
Street wisdom worth using
You might have noticed that Cohen's recommendations come strictly from the U.S. bank, thrift, REIT, and specialty finance sectors. That's no accident.
The financial-services industry holds the enviable position as middlemen for the economy's flow of capital. Banks, especially, play the crucial role of facilitating transactions and providing capital for individuals and businesses. Just imagine a world where we all had to stick our savings under a mattress or piggy bank. Scary, eh? Regardless of which part of the economy grows -- whether biotech, the Internet, solar power, or housing -- banks stand to benefit as the ones that make it possible.
Also, as this Fool article mentions, because a bank's financial statements are funny looking, investors tend to scrutinize them less. This can often mean attractive opportunities for those who are enterprising enough to dig deep within banking stocks -- particularly the ones that are largely ignored. Obviously, this market-beating point isn't lost on Cohen's analysts.
Banking on it
According to the company's website, "Our award-winning research team covers financial-services companies not heavily followed by Wall Street, turning insights into actionable investment ideas ... we emphasize fundamental analysis of the companies we follow, seeking unique research ideas and underfollowed investment opportunities in both the equity and fixed-income markets." Now that's what I call financial scrutiny.
It's interesting to note that several of Cohen's recommendations -- both long and short -- have fewer than 10 ratings from other CAPS investors. That, by definition, gives them the "No Rating" moniker. With an accuracy of 70%, the firm crushes the market and the majority of CAPS Fools by figuring out stocks that the majority of investors don't even want to look at -- thus proving, once again, that obscure, boring companies provide some of the best bargains in the business.
Judging from Cohen & Company's focus on the highly profitable financial-services industry, its willingness to concentrate on little-known firms, and, most importantly, its All-Star performance in CAPS, this is one Wall Street firm that might just do you some good financial service.
Past performance does not guarantee future results
Of course, the caveat here is that we've been tracking Wall Street picks for only a few months now. While we can't yet call the data predictive, it's at least interesting to examine.
If you'd like to take a look at the rest of Wall Street's best and worst analysts and their stock recommendations, not to mention what your fellow investors are saying, click here to join the CAPS community absolutely free. You can get all kinds of opinions on the stocks you're looking to buy, sell, or hold.
And hey, you might even find yourself surpassing some of Wall Street's biggest and brightest in no time.
The financial community has been opaque for too long. CAPS can change all that.
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Fool contributor Brian Pacampara worked for a jumbo-sized financial-services company in Canada once, but Foolishness is what came to him naturally. He holds no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy is always at your financial service.