The following information may shock you: Wall Street firms are covering far fewer companies today than they were just a few years ago. According to SmartMoney, "In 2000 ... more than 7,600 companies were covered by at least three analysts. Today, that number is below 6,000."

Which companies fly beneath Wall Street's radar? The smallest ones. In fact, more than 90% of the thousands of publicly traded companies with no analyst coverage are small caps.

That means opportunity for all of us.

Opportunity? What opportunity?
We know that small companies offer the market's best returns, so the dearth of analyst coverage means that small-cap stocks are more likely to be priced inefficiently. Ergo, we can -- under optimal circumstances -- buy the market's most promising stocks at the market's best prices.

That's a recipe for success, and it's one of the reasons we focus exclusively on researching small- and micro-cap stocks at Motley Fool Hidden Gems. Just take a look at some of the stocks we've highlighted, and the number of pros who work their beats.

Company

Market Cap (in Millions)

Analysts Covering

Almost Family (NASDAQ:AFAM)

$269

6

National Research (NASDAQ:NRCI)

$163

1

MoSys (NASDAQ:MOSY)

$64

0

Unico American (NASDAQ:UNAM)

$41

0

Data from Thomson.

And for the record, Almost Family was tracked by just two analysts when we found it way back at $19 per share.

Meet the efficient market
Compare that amount of analyst coverage with that of three larger companies on the market.

Company

Market Cap (in Millions)

Analysts Covering

Disney (NYSE:DIS)

$36,105

31

Lowe's (NYSE:LOW)

$28,272

24

Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT)

$194,676

26

Data from Thomson.

It's not even close.

There are plenty of reasons why more analysts cover the bigger companies: There's more news, more interest, and more of an opportunity for the firm to make a market in the security. However, those reasons don't include any chance that large caps offer more gains for the individual investor.

In fact, it's exactly the opposite!

The Foolish bottom line
You can make money investing in a basket of carefully chosen, small, underfollowed companies. That's what we do at Hidden Gems, and you can learn more about our specific strategies and recommendations for free for 30 days. Click here for details.

This article was originally published on June 17, 2006, as "Stocks With Promise That Wall Street Ignores." It has been updated.

Neither Tim Hanson nor Brian Richards owns shares of any company mentioned in this article. Disney is a Stock Advisor pick. Wal-Mart and Disney are Inside Value picks. No Fool is too cool for disclosure.