There’s an old story in investing circles that goes something like this ...

A Midwest billionaire once claimed he could earn 50% profits year after year, investing in nothing other than ordinary common stocks. Of course, there was a condition.

And maybe that’s just that -- a story. After all, it’s a tall order, and it's been debated for years. So, did this guy really make that claim? And if he did, what was that one condition?

Enter a flock of Jayhawks
While we bickered over who said what and when, a naïve class of business students actually did something about it. They kicked their way from Lawrence, Kansas to Omaha, Nebraska and set up a meeting.

And they asked him: Did he ever really make that "50% per year" guarantee? And more important, would he stand by it today? He didn't just confirm it -- he went further.

You'll be surprised how he would do it
To earn that 50% per year -- essentially doubling your money every 20.5 months -- this guy wouldn't buy the blue-chip consumer giants that made him the world’s richest man ... or even his own $140 billion company.

He'd buy obscure companies with names you've probably never heard of. How do I know? He told us. Remember that one condition?

Well, this fellow would promise us 50% per year ... only if we had less than $1 million to invest. That's because he would be loading up on undiscovered, thinly traded small companies -- the one spot in the market where individual investors like us have an advantage over the pros.

Why Warren Buffett wishes he were you
You knew it was Buffett, didn't you? Well, can you guess why he wishes he were you? Because he has too much money. I know, that sounds nuts. After all, the big money on Wall Street has all the advantages, right? Wrong.

For one thing, even in this market, most pros have way more than $1 million to invest, so they can't mess with great small companies -- at least not without risking running up the price or buying a controlling stake in the firm.

That's one reason why you see so much trading volume in the usual suspects. Take a look at these names among the most widely owned and heavily traded Nasdaq stocks.


Market Capitalization

Average Volume


$107 billion

6 million

Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT)

$13 billion

20 million

Research In Motion (NYSE:RIMM)

$31 billion

24 million

Sirius XM Radio (NASDAQ:SIRI)

$478 million

43 million


$4.5 billion

16 million

And over on the NYSE? How about Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), still weighing in at $60 billion plus and trading more than 30 million shares a day. On Wall Street, they call this liquidity -- a polite way of saying "the usual suspects buying and selling the same old stocks to each other."

So, if you've got half a billion to put to work this afternoon, you'd better buy something big and forget about the next big thing. But don't expect to be dazzled; even after getting crushed in 2008, those usual suspects don't have many doubles left in the tank -- much less one every 20 months or so.

Wait a minute! Aren't small companies risky?
Yes and no. Ibbotson Associates tracks stock returns by "style" and market cap. You could have invested $1,000 in Ibbotson's large-cap universe back in 1927, and you'd have about $2 million today. Not bad.

If you'd bought small-cap value stocks instead, you'd have more like $30 million. Of course, the word "value" here is key. In fact, combining the potential of small caps with old-school value is the missing link between big profit potential and Warren Buffett's grind-it-out success.

My old friend and Motley Fool co-founder Tom Gardner hammered this into my head when I worked with him on his Motley Fool Hidden Gems newsletter service. I know firsthand how dramatic the returns can be when you focus on unloved, obscure, and (most important) underpriced small companies.

"Be greedy when others are fearful"
That's something else I learned from Buffett. As painful as it is right now (and I feel your pain), I truly think this market is a godsend for opportunistic small-cap investors. In other words, if you've ever wondered how Tom Gardner’s handpicked Hidden Gems team has beaten the market six years running with small-cap value stocks, now's the time to find out.

Especially since you can try Hidden Gems for free and get the team’s top five picks best positioned to make you money right now. I have a hunch these guys can help make you some money. I guarantee they’ll make you a better investor. If you have less than $1 million to invest, that is.

Best of all, there's no risk for you. If you're not absolutely convinced at any point during the first 30 days, I'll personally make sure you’re not charged a dime. This way you can decide when the market has turned and it’s time to move. Even Buffett would be proud. To learn more about this free trial offer, click here.

This article was originally published on Feb. 10, 2006. It has been updated.

Paul Elliott  promises to keep you posted on Tom Gardner's results. As of this morning, the stocks highlighted in Hidden Gems are up an average of 20.4%, versus 0.9% if you'd bought the S&P 500 instead. You can view the entire scorecard with your free trial. Paul doesn't own any stocks mentioned. NVIDIA is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. JPMorgan is an Income Investor selection. Google is a Rule Breakers pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.