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

Small sums of money invested monthly in undervalued small-cap stocks offer hope for your greatest returns. They offer the best growth opportunities for growth because they're mostly ignored by the big investors.

Below we screen for stocks under $3 billion in market cap, offering earnings surprises of 15% or more in the previous quarter, with long-term earnings growth forecast to be at least 15%. We'll then filter our findings through the collective investing wisdom of the 170,000 members in our Motley Fool CAPS community.

Here are some of the stocks this simple screen found:


Market Cap

EPS Act. vs. Est.

Avg. Analyst 5-Yr EPS Est.

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

China Digital TV (NYSE: STV)

$402 million

$0.33 vs. $0.13



Xinyuan Real Estate (NYSE: XIN)

$165 million

$0.28 vs. $0.19



Zoltek (Nasdaq: ZOLT)

$423 million

($0.05) vs. ($0.06)



Sources: Yahoo! Finance 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.

An alternative opportunity
Technological changes can create massive opportunities for profit, but forced migrations to new standards typically leave little doubt as to who should be the winners and losers. When big-screen TVs suddenly became very affordable, glass panel maker Corning (NYSE: GLW) reaped the rewards. Coming as it did after Congress forced a conversion from analog to digital broadcast signals, Dolby Labs saw its digital sound technology become a required component of TV sets and set-top boxes.

China is now forcing a similar conversion to a digital signal by 2015, and investors might want to keep an eye on China Digital TV, which makes smart cards essential for the new standards. Fourth-quarter smart-card revenues jumped 151% year-over-year and 60% from the third quarter, with profits surging by similar percentages. As new tax laws come into effect in China that will exempt an estimated 20% of the population from paying any income taxes, that should help spur consumer spending and eventually fall to China Digital's bottom line.

With no debt and plenty of cash available to it, CAPS member Fareed69 is in agreement, seeing the macro trends falling China Digital TV's way:

Healthy company which could become a multi-bagger going forward. I like the industry and am very bullish on China.

Tune in on the China Digital TV CAPS page and see whether it's signaling a clear path for growth.

A bend in the road
Although we've heard warnings that China's housing market is a bubble about to burst, expansion continues unabated. Despite attempts to reverse policies that encouraged real estate speculation, sales still jumped 26% in the first quarter. But the curbs on development are taking a toll across the industry.

Housing developer Xinyuan Real Estate is trading 30% lower than it did six months ago, and shares of real estate agency E-House are at similarly depressed levels. CAPS investor humanperson sees this as a great opportunity for a contrarian investor:

Chinese property stocks are unloved and unwanted right now, creating the chance for great value investing. XIN has posted consistent growth and beaten projections for more than a year. Chinese fiscal policy is hugely expansionary this year, and the Chinese government knows that it must support the housing market to stay in power.

Add Xinyuan to your watchlist then head over to the Xinyuan Real Estate CAPS page and give us your thoughts on whether this is a house of cards.

Man the ramparts
Recently American Superconductor (Nasdaq: AMSC) surprised investors with news that its biggest customer, Sinovel, was withholding placing more orders for electrical components for its wind turbines. While it was a shock that sent shares tumbling, it's not like there haven't been warning signs with inverter makers Power-One (Nasdaq: PWER) and Satcon Technology (Nasdaq: SATC) both reporting weak earnings.

Yet the first sign there were strong headwinds facing the industry occurred back in November when carbon fiber materials leader Zoltek said its largest customer, Vestas, was closing down manufacturing facilities in Europe, leading to lower demand for carbon fiber. It's now apparent that the industry is caught in the doldrums amid baffling winds.

CAPS member whomonkyoulus says you need to have a longer horizon to appreciate the value Zoltek offers:

This is a long term pick. I should wait until the stock falls down to a more reasonable price than the current one.... I would put in a limit order but I always have dozens of stocks in the "pending" queue. I feel alright about it though because of the insiders buying.

Let us know in the comments section below or on the Zoltek CAPS page whether its business will find the wind at its back.

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!

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.