You don't need the investing acumen of Warren Buffett or the riches of a trust fund baby to achieve financial success.

Since the stock market is your best hope for realizing your dreams, start investing today, by putting away small sums of money every month. Then seek out undervalued small-cap stocks for your greatest returns. I like these stocks because they offer opportunities for growth, while still being mostly overlooked by the big investors.

To find these future giants, we'll screen for stocks with market values less than $3 billion, an earnings surprise of 15% or more in the previous quarter, and forecasts for long-term earnings growth potential of at least 15%. We'll filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the 165,000 members in our Motley Fool CAPS community. If the best and brightest CAPS players think these stocks hold potential, we ought to take notice, too.

Here are some of the stocks this simple screen found:


Market Cap

EPS Surprise

Avg. Analyst 5-Yr EPS Est.

CAPS Rating

Brigham Exploration (Nasdaq: BEXP)

$2.2 billion

$0.08 vs. $0.05



Goodyear Tire & Rubber (NYSE: GT)

$2.9 billion

$0.18 vs. ($0.03)



J Crew Group (NYSE: JCG)

$2.9 billion

$0.68 vs. $0.57



Source: and Motley Fool CAPS.

Of course, this is not a list of stocks to buy -- just a starting point for more research. We need to look more closely at these companies to see whether analysts' faith in them is well-founded. Still, since the CAPS community's helping us out, their favorite selections might be a good place to begin.

An alternative opportunity
In Iron Man 2, the fictional Stark Industries hypes its upcoming trade show by promoting "better living through technology." Oil and natural-gas exploration specialist Brigham Exploration is taking that message to heart, using technology to better exploit the resources in the Bakken shale formation, and improving its investors' profitability.

Although Denbury Resources (NYSE: DNR), EOG Resources (NYSE: EOG), and even Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) are all plying away in the Bakken, analysts say that Brigham's superior use of technology is winning the day there, allowing it to bring on wells that approach or have reached record levels of initial production. Two more successful well results recently confirm that Brigham has a knack for hitting gold.

Oil prices jumped more than 2% in response to an apparently erroneous report that the Obama administration would ban shallow-water drilling as well as deepwater exploration. That move underscored CAPS All-Star member skepticalbuyer's belief that oil prices will remain high now and in the future, making Brigham Exploration an all-around attractive investment:

Just did an equity raise at $18, so bargain priced in the 14s If you believe oil will stay above $75 in the long run as I do, the economics of their drilling projects are incredible. PV-10s of $10 million for each well, and maybe 1000 net locations.

Taken for a ride
Considering that Goodyear Tire had what many would have branded as a blowout quarter, trouncing analyst expectations by a wide margin, it's surprising that the stock is 10% lower now than when earnings were announced. The problem is not where Goodyear has been, but where it's going. A recovering auto industry that's helping Ford (NYSE: F) and GM sell more cars is a positive, but rising raw material costs, currency devaluations in Venezuela (not to mention that country's mercurial leader), and hefty legacy costs have all dimmed the company's future outlookin, putting pressure on the stock.

That probably explains our investment community's dour outlook on Goodyear. Although 80% of the CAPS members rating the tire maker think it will outperform the broader market averages, its two-star rating suggests they believe there are better places for your money.

In the eye of the beholder
Fashion retailer J. Crew also had a superb first quarter, but whereas Goodyear's outlook seemed gloomier, the clothier still sees better times ahead. Going up against weaker comparisons allowed J. Crew to record a 15% increase in same-store sales in the period, and while that kind of growth is likely not sustainable, the retailer is forecasting that earnings will be well ahead of where it previously thought. Management raised full-year guidance to a range of $2.35 to $2.45, from its prior estimate of $2.20 to $2.30 per share.

CAPS member iStockGenie thinks J. Crew is threading the needle between its own performance and that of the broader industry, with further growth ahead:

JCG is in a great retail spot as they continue to grow revenue at a rapid pace. The company continues to project agressive sales growth (9.3% in 2010) and still easily beat analyst expectations (by 13.6 % in 2009 Q4 and 32.6 % in the most recent quarter). $49.32 short term target. $56 long term target. 

Foolish final thoughts
Stock investing is not brain surgery. Finding good, undervalued companies is not as difficult as the professionals want you to think. You just have to commit to starting now, and do so regularly. Now's the time to begin!

Chesapeake Energy is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Ford Motor is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Chesapeake Energy and Denbury Resources. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.