America is talking about Affiliated Managers Group!

OK, not really. In fact, there's a good chance you've never even heard of this company. Yet its value more than tripled after Tom Gardner recommended it in Motley Fool Stock Advisor in September 2002. (He subsequently issued a sell recommendation -- more on that later.) What made this stock a success? Three main reasons, a couple of which are surprising.

1. Obscure company
Obscure, and rather boring, AMG is a holding company of mid-sized money-management firms from around the country. These businesses, which invest money in stocks for other people, include Essex Investment Management, Friess Associates, and Tweedy, Browne.

Most great success stories were unknown in the beginning. Even Wal-Mart garnered no excitement in its early days. But these under-the-radar companies can offer individual investors bargain prices.

2. Efficiently run
AMG has done a great job of assembling high-quality asset-management firms and leaving them largely autonomous. Yet all of the affiliates benefit from lower administrative costs, access to better technology, new product development, and diversified approaches across the company. In addition, incentives are tied to the performance of cash earnings per share. Haphazard or indifferent management doesn't cut it at AMG, and the result is a lean, efficient, and well-operated machine.

3. Bad industry
When Tom uncovered this solid business, it had been beaten down nearly 40% from its 52-week high. Of course, we were smack-dab in the middle of one of the worst bear markets in years, and the entire asset-management industry was hurting. Who cared about these companies anymore?

But because of top-notch efficient management, AMG was not only able to weather whatever the market threw at it, but it also was poised to reap big benefits when the market eventually turned around. The result: a quality company available at a bargain price.

The next AMG?
There are many other factors to consider when sizing up a potential investment. But if you can identify a company that's (1) obscure, (2) efficient, and (3) in an out-of-favor industry -- well, that's a beautiful thing. You may have found a stock that's beaten down well below its fair value and is ready to break out when the industry recovers. To illustrate, I selected a few industries that have hit the skids recently, and I screened for companies within those industries that had net margins and return on assets significantly better than industry averages. Here's a short list of such companies that now trade well below their 52-week highs:



Recent Price

52-Week High

Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK)

Oil and gas



Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC)




Cameco (NYSE:CCJ)

Metal mining







DuPont (NYSE:DD)




Teck Cominco (NYSE:TCK)

Metal mining



Foster Wheeler (NASDAQ:FWLT)

Construction services



Some of these aren't exactly obscure, but I wanted to include some bigger names you might like to investigate. All of these companies are presented for further research; this is not a "buy" list.

Foolish bottom line
After tripling in value, Affiliated Managers Group no longer carried a bargain price tag. Though he still believes in management and the business model, Tom issued a "sell" recommendation in March 2006 because of valuation concerns. But he continues to search for that winning trifecta every month.

The Stock Advisor service is now more than six years old. Tom and his brother David's recommendations have returned an average of 5%, while equal amounts invested in the S&P 500, by comparison, would have lost 24%. If you'd like to check out all of the formal Stock Advisor recommendations plus the top five stocks to buy right now, we're offering a special 30-day free trial. Click here to give it a whirl.

This article was originally published April 21, 2006. It has been updated.

Rex Moore salutes another of his former schools, Anderson High School in Austin, Texas. He does not own shares of any company mentioned. BB&T is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Chesapeake Energy and Wal-Mart are Inside Value selections. The Motley Fool is investors helping investors.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.