Should I invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)?

Here are three reasons to invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV) and three reasons to avoid it.

What does American Riviera Bank (ARBV) do?

A small bank in Santa Barbara, Calif., American Riviera opened in July of 2006. It’s done well, too, recently recently merging with The Bank of Santa Barbara. That gives ARBV two community branches, both of which are focused on growing their deposit bases and expanding lending.

Three reasons NOT to invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)

1) Under-performance. Year-to-date, ARBV is underperforming the S&P 500. Shares are up 3 percent while the broader market is up north of 5 percent. Still, that’s better than some of the nation’s largest banks. Bank of America (BAC), for example, is down more than 7 percent this year, and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) is down half a percent.

2) Merger woes. ARBV recently merged with The Bank of Santa Barbara. Unexpected costs or difficulties with the merger could impact the bank’s ability to make a profit. Mergers that look great on paper can sometimes result in culture clashes that negatively impact a business.

3) Over-the-counter shares. ARBV trades over-the-counter – not on a national securities exchange like the NASDAQ. That means ARBV isn’t held to the same stringent reporting requirements as companies on the NASDAQ. We know less about ARBV than we do other banks that trade on the NYSE.

Three reasons to invest in American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)

1) Strong growth. 2015 saw significant growth for the bank. According to ARBV’s 2015 annual report, the company grew its average total loans by 14 percent to $179 million. The bank also grew its average assets by 12 percent to $232,000. All told, the bank had net income of $1,303,000 in 2015 (unadjusted for non-recurring merger-related costs). That worked out to $0.48 per share. “Our bank finished the year with a record $249 million in assets and 18% higher pre-tax income over 2014 excluding merger related costs,” the company wrote.

At the end of 2015, ARBV had a book value of $10.56. Today, shares are trading at $11.65. Over the past five years, ARBV shares have appreciated more than 124 percent. That’s well above the S&P 500’s return of 84 percent. “Our goal is to reach a $1 per share earnings run rate by year end,” ARBV wrote early in 2016.

2) Great track record. American Riviera Bank celebrated its 10th anniversary on July 18, 2016. The finance industry is one of the most heavily regulated industries on the planet. Staying in business and growing over the course of a decade (particularly through the housing and financial collapse of 2007-2008) is impressive.

3) Merger time. American Riviera Bank merged with The Bank of Santa Barbara effective January 1, 2016. While this is adding significant merger-related costs to the company’s books, ARBV believes the “merger has positive financial synergies.” If you’re looking for growth, two branches are better than one.

Should I buy American Riviera Bank stock (ARBV)?

ARBV’s shares look appealing so long as interest rates begin to normalize. Artificially-low interest rates make it difficult for banks to generate big profits as the spread between their borrowing rate and the rate they lend to customers is small. If ARBV can continue to grow, it will do so by capturing more of the Santa Barbara County market – an area with a median household income of $63,409. Santa Barbara County is the 17th-wealthiest county in California. Right now, ARBV controls 2.77 percent of the market there (by deposits).

Nano-cap stocks are stocks with a market capitalization of $50 million or less. Check out more of my write-ups on nano-cap stocks here. Full disclosure: I do not own a position in ARBV, and I do not plan to initiate one in the next 72 hours.

Why Bank of America stock (NYSE:BAC) got crushed

It’s clear investors feel like Bank of America’s the ugliest house in a pretty crummy-looking neighborhood. Here are five reasons why.

It’s not often that one of the 30 largest stocks in the country drops 20 percent in a day. That’s what happened to Bank of America Corporation (NYSE:BAC) yesterday, though. The Dow component stock crumpled from $8.17 a share to $6.51 and it shed another 1.5 percent in after-hours trading.

Year-to-date, Bank of America stock is down 51 percent. But the bad news just doesn’t seem to be going away for America’s largest bank holding company. Here are five reasons the stock got crushed yesterday:

1) The mother of all lawsuits. American International Group, Inc. (NYSE:AIG) filed suit against BAC yesterday seeking at least $10 billion in damages for alleged fraud at the bank and at Countrywide Financial, a mortgage origination company that Bank of America acquired in 2007.

2) Did we mention the other lawsuits? AIG is just the latest in a string of high-profile lawsuits against BAC. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, BlackRock, Inc. (NYSE:BLK), PIMCO and Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE:GS) have also filed suits against the bank. And no one’s sure just how much it’s going to cost BAC to defend itself (not to mention how much it will cost if the bank does have to pay for damages one day).

3) Stock dilution, anyone? Bank of America maintains its stance that the company won’t have to issue more shares in order to cover costs associated with ongoing litigation. If the lawsuits keep coming, though, BAC might not have a choice. Win or lose, lawyers need paid.

4) Jumping ship. Regulatory filings released yesterday showed that hedge fund manager David Tepper of Appaloosa Management LP took a carving knife to his stake in BAC last quarter. Tepper pared off 42 percent of his holdings in the bank, narrowly escaping the guillotine that dropped yesterday. The news of Tepper’s move added fuel to an already fiery sell-off.

5) Downgrade central. In just two trading days, Bank of America shares were downgraded three times. On the heels of downgrades from Standard & Poor’s and Wells Fargo, the most recent thumbs-down comes from CLSA analyst Mike Mayo (per TheStreet). Mayo cut the stock from “buy” to “outperform” (which almost seems meaningless considering the stock’s loses year-to-date). Still, it’s yet another vote of no-confidence for BAC.

All told, yesterday’s 20 percent plunge in Bank of America’s share price wiped out $16 billion. Other banks didn’t fare much better, but it’s clear investors feel like Bank of America’s the ugliest house in a pretty crummy-looking neighborhood. For the year, BAC is down 51 percent. Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C) is down 41 percent YTD, Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC) is down 26 percent, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) seems heroic having lost just 20 percent since the start of the year.

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Why do companies go public?

Is Ally IPO a buy?

Will the Ally IPO be a buy? Here are three (not necessarily convincing reasons) to be bullish on the stock.

Welcome to the new incarnation of GMAC: Ally Financial, Inc. The storied company was originally founded by General Motors in 1919 as a lending house for car buyers. Nearly a century later, GMAC had expanded into insurance, online banking, and subprime lending.

It was subprime lending, of course, that would eventually knock GMAC Bank to its knees in May of 2008. The Federal government swept in, buying ever-larger chunks of the company until – in December of 2010 – it would become the majority stakeholder. Out of the ashes would rise Ally Financial, a bank holding company that’s announced plans to go public with an IPO in the next several months. Will the Ally IPO be a buy, though? Here are three (not necessarily convincing reasons) to be bullish on the stock:

1) Dollars and cents. Ally’s got a long row to hoe, but at least it’s profitable. As it stands, the company owes the U.S. Government $12.3 billion in funds received from the TARP program. That’s even after Ally’s already repaid $4.9 billion. There are glimmers of hope, though. Early figures estimate the company could raise $5 billion (per Reuters) from an IPO. That figure could grow as Ally’s IPO date nears, too.

While Ally owes the government $12.3 billion, the Treasury holds $5.9 billion in preferred stock. That means Ally actually needs to come up with just $6.4 billion to pay off the government (before any interest Uncle Sam decides to take). Total net revenue at Ally grew 22 percent last year to $7.9 billion. That was good enough $1.1 billion in profits.

2) New car anyone? I like to think of Ally as an extension of the auto industry. The bank, after all, funds 80 percent of all GM dealers and half of GM’s customers, according to the Capitalistpig Hedge Fund‘s managing member Jonathan Hoenig. Indeed, Ally financed 10 percent of all new cars sold in the U.S. last year. As the prospects for the auto industry improve, so too do Ally’s.

3) Diversification. To be successful moving forward, Ally will have to find creative new ways to make money. Mortgage lending rules will be tighter, and fees the bank can impose on its customers will be smaller. It’s clear the company must find new ways to make profits. That might not be as difficult as it sounds. When you’ve got $172 billion in assets, there are a lot of potential directions you can go in. Given Ally’s leadership in online banking and its early foray into subprime lending, the company has shown it’s not afraid of taking risks. If it makes better choices moving forward, this IPO could unlock a new and exciting chapter in the company’s future.

Bears will be bears: The bearish case against Ally is just as powerful as the bullish case, though. Since the company’s prospects are so pervasively intertwined with the fortunes of General Motors Company (NYSE:GM) and Chrysler, headwinds for American automakers mean headwinds for Ally. And gauging by the performance of GM’s stock since its IPO (down 10 percent), it looks like it’ll be a while before investors start jumping on the bandwagon again.

Then, there’s the pesky matter of dealing with regulators. Ally’s mishandling of foreclosures last year could ultimately lead to a multi-billion dollar fine from the government.

While the publicity surrounding Ally’s IPO will make it a tempting daytrade, it doesn’t take much looking to find companies with more intriguing growth profiles. Smaller companies might not have the name recognition of Ally, but they’ve probably got better financials – and that’s what matters in the long run. Until we see more innovation at Ally, there just isn’t a whole lot to get excited about.

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JPMorgan tries to get in before Twitter IPO (JPM)

Wealthy investors will pay just about anything to invest in Facebook and Twitter. JPMorgan (JPM) and Goldman Sachs (GS) are finding ways to make it happen.

Shortly after Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE:GS) announced it was selling $1 billion in Facebook shares to its foreign clients, news leaked that JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) was raising cash, too, for its so-called J.P. Morgan Digital Growth Fund LP. A few weeks later, the Digital Growth Fund is sitting on a treasure chest filled with $1.2 billion. And it’s looking to deploy that cash for stakes in late-stage, pre-IPO social media companies.

Twitter sits in the crosshairs. Negotiations are ongoing, but it sounds like JPM’s pushing for a minority stake in Twitter, which could value the site at $4.5 billion, according to the Financial Times.

Talk about a steep valuation. Debra Williamson of eMarketer estimates Twitter could generate just $150 million in revenue in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal. Compare that to Facebook, which could generate as much as $4 billion.

With a valuation around 100 times the company’s revenues, JPM will probably lobby for Twitter to put itself up for sale. A partnership with a site like Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) could give Twitter the cash and time it needs to roll out a viable, long-term business model. And no one suggests such a thing will be easy.

While Twitter’s got 175 million “registered accounts,” eMarketer believes that only 16 million or so of those accounts are actually active. Still, it’s difficult to put a price-tag on a site that’s among the Top 10 most-visited Web sites in the world (per Alexa). It shares that honor with Web superpowers like Baidu.com, Youtube.com and Google.com.

Twitter’s reach makes it difficult to slap a pricetag on, even if the site’s “only” generating $150 million a year. The fact of the matter is, investors probably won’t care. The hottest companies in the tech sphere are all privately-owned. And we all want a piece of something the rest of the public can’t touch. Wealthy investors will pay just about anything for that honor, and JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs are finding ways to make it happen.

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Net income at Noah Holdings (NOAH) up 88 percent

With great wealth comes the desire to make even more of it, and Noah Holdings (NYSE:NOAH) appears perfectly positioned to help China’s newest millionaires amass even more cash.

First off, this disclaimer: Noah Holdings Limited (NYSE:NOAH) is one of the biggest holdings in my portfolio right now. A wealth management company that serves high-net-worth individuals in China, Noah released 4Q earnings last night. Analysts were spot on with their calls. The company reported $0.09 earnings per share, which met the Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of $0.09, according to AmericanBankingNews.com.

Net revenues at the company shot up 157 percent from $5.4 million in Q4 2009 to $14 million in Q4 2010. Over that same time span, net income attributable to shareholders rose 88.9 percent to $4.2 million. Those are heady numbers, and so are the company’s expectations for the rest of the year. Noah forecasts non-GAAP net income attributable to shareholders to hit a year-over-year increase in the range of 56.7% and 86.6%.

Analysts are also positive on the stock. JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) initiated coverage on Noah Holdings with an Overweight rating and a $22.00 price target last month. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) analysts currently list Noah as a Buy with a $22.20 price target.

Both targets are more than 40 percent higher than the stock’s current price at $15.43. Apparently, I should have waited to buy my shares, which are down 3.5 percent since opening day, but I’m definitely not worried about the company’s long-term prospects.

There’s much talk about China’s burgeoning middle class, but, if luxury purchasing is any indication, the ranks of the upper class are swelling even faster. A new report by broker CSLA forecasts overall consumption in China will rise 11 percent per year over the next five years. Sales of luxury goods are expected to grow more than twice as quickly, by 25 percent a year.

“The wealth of China’s upper-middle class has reached an inflection point, reckons [the author of the CSLA report] Mr. Fischer. They have everything they need,” The Economist writes. “Now they want a load of stuff they don’t need, too.”

With great wealth comes the desire to make even more of it, and Noah appears perfectly positioned to help China’s newest millionaires amass even more cash.

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Buffett trims fat from portfolio (BAC, NKE, FISV, LOW)

Interestingly, Berkshire wasn’t the only investment company to shift capital out of banks. Trian Partners made the same bet in order to focus on food stocks.

We got a glimpse at Warren Buffett’s recent investment moves with Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s (NYSE:BRK.B) 13F filing, which details the company’s stock trades through the end of 2010. Most notably, the Oracle of Omaha ditched 5 million shares in Bank of America Corp. (NYSE:BAC).

“He’s closing out a loser,” Jeff Matthews, author of ‘Pilgrimage to Warren Buffett’s Omaha’ told Bloomberg. “We bought it during the crisis. But its earnings power coming out the crisis has been reduced.”

Buffett took a loss of more than 55 percent on the trade after purchasing the shares during the height of the mortgage crisis. Some analysts see the move out of BAC as a sign that Buffett’s cleaning house as he prepares to hand over the reins to a group of successors.

Other positions Berkshire closed out last year:

  • Becton Dickinson & Co. (NYSE:BDX)
  • Comcast Corp. (NYSE:CMCSA)
  • Fiserv Inc. (NYSE:FISV)
  • Lowe’s Companies Inc. (NYSE:LOW)
  • Nalco Holding Co. (NYSE:NLC)
  • Nestle (NSRGY.PK)
  • Nike Inc. (NYSE:NKE)

Berkshire now holds positions in just 25 companies. That’s down from 37 in June, according to NewsyStocks.com. Interestingly, Berkshire wasn’t the only investment company to shift capital out of banks.

Trian Partners, which is headed by widely-followed investor Nelson Peltz, ditched stakes in Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE: JPM) and U.S. Bancorp, (NYSE: USB), according to BizJournals.com, to make a big bet on food stocks, specifically Kellogg’s (NYSE: K).

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JP Morgan’s new media fund forces out the little guy, again

JPMorgan Chase’s fund is being shopped around to wealthy investors while the rest of the world gets to wait for what will likely be a bloated IPO share price at some undetermined date in the future.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) appears to be readying a New Media investing fund that would give high net worth individuals access to shares in late-stage tech companies like Facebook and Groupon. The fund, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, would focus on social networking and other new media companies that are nearing IPOs.

The move echoes Goldman Sachs Group’s (Public, NYSE:GS) $1.5 billion round of financing for Facebook. Goldman kept $500 million worth of shares in the social networking company for itself, then offered the rest to wealthy investors outside the U.S. Likewise, JPMorgan Chase’s fund will likely get shopped around to wealthy investors while the rest of the world waits for a bloated IPO share price at some undetermined date in the future.

It’s yet another advantage that the wealthy have over small-time retail investors. Since companies like Facebook aren’t yet publicly traded, shares are only available via financing deals directly with the companies or on secondary markets including SharesPost and SecondMarket (read my post on How to buy stock in private companies for more).

These secondary exchanges provide a place where early-stage investors or employees at companies like Facebook can sell their shares to Accredited Investors or Qualified Purchasers. To be deemed an Accredited Investor, you’ve got to have a net worth of $1 million or more. If JP Morgan’s plan comes to fruition, it would give even more wealthy investors access shares in red-hot private companies – not just Facebook but likely others as well including Twitter, LinkedIn and Pandora.

“The sense that smaller investors will get the higher price when (these) companies come public and that the smaller investor is not having the same opportunities, feels just wrong,” writes a commenter on an article at DealBook.

My sentiments exactly. The whole scenario has part of me wishing I could invest in the New Media fund while the other half hopes that the valuations in these private companies get pushed so high that the shares crumple at IPO.

If nothing else, the frenzied valuation spike in private social media companies should give you pause before you place a buy order when the shares go public – if they ever do.

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HDFC Bank turns dominant in India’s credit card market (HDB)

HDFC Bank Limited (NYSE:HDB) looks poised to outgrow its peers in 2011 as it captures more of the credit card market and continues to surprise analysts to the upside.

With rising defaults on personal loans in India, the country’s credit card market has undergone subtle but seismic shifts over the past two years, and it’s beginning to look like HDFC Bank Limited (NYSE:HDB) is poised to come out on top. The company defied market expectations last quarter by reporting a 33 percent rise in net profits.

The number of active credit cards in India has tumbled since March of 2008 from 20.75 million to 10.82 million as of November 2010, according to the Times of India. Unlike most domestic and foreign banks operating in the country, though, HDFC has aggressively grown it’s credit card portfolio.

“Industry officials estimate that HDFC Bank is nearing leadership position, followed by ICICI Bank (ICICI Bank Limited, NYSE:IBN) and SBI Cards,” Mayur Shetty writes in the Times. “Although HDFC has been the most aggressive in card issuance, its card customers are predominantly account holders in the bank.”

Rising interest rates and higher commodity prices will likely crimp borrowing going forward, but the Head of Equities at Ambit Capital, Saurabh Mukherjea, expects HDFC to outperform the sector.

“There will be consensus pullbacks in our FY12 economic growth rates and the banking sector will see some pullback on the back of that,” Mukherjea told the Economic Times. “But by and large the higher quality banking names, HDFC in particular, will outperform the rest of the sector as we enter a softer period from an economic growth perspective.”

The Royal Bank of Scotland ranks HDFC highest among private-sector banks in India, according to Reuters. Analysts there have retained a “buy” rating on HDFC, “hold” on ICICI Bank and “sell” on Axis Bank (AXBK.BO).

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Top five stock picks for 2011

One of the keys to successful investing is beating the herd to the next hot stock. These five stocks and sectors could be those diamonds in the rough in 2011.

One of the keys to successful investing is beating the herd to the next hot stock. Here are my top five stock picks for 2011. They might not be in the limelight yet, but they very well could be by the end of the year:

1) Tech IPOs. In my unofficial tech IPO calendar for 2011, I detail 23 major tech companies that could have large, high-profile IPOs this year. Only one of those companies (Demand Media, Inc., NYSE:DMD) has gone public so far, and it shot up 33 percent in its first day of trading. The best are yet to come, from coupon-of-the-day company Groupon, which turned down a $6 billion offer from Google, to LinkedIn, a social networking company for professionals with more than 90 million members. Keep an eye on tech IPOs throughout the year as the market seems ready to take on more risk in a sector that’s growing rapidly; particularly in China.

2) Cloud-computing. As more businesses move their web sites and applications from dedicated web servers onto distributed server platforms, several companies are poised to soak up that new revenue stream. Amazon.com, Inc. (Public, NASDAQ:AMZN) has been at the forefront of the cloud computing industry although the company’s not all that transparent on how much revenue cloud computing actually generates for them. Estimates range from $500 million in 2010 to $1 billion. UBS analysts Brian Pitz and Brian Fitzgerald predict cloud computing could pull in some $2.5 billion a year for Amazon by 2014. Two other players you might consider in the space: Cisco Systems, Inc. (Public, NASDAQ:CSCO) and dedicated web hosting company Rackspace Hosting, Inc. (NYSE:RAX). Shares in Rackspace are up more than 86 percent over the past six months.

3) Blue chip stocks. Thanks to exchange rates and a falling dollar, even investors abroad are moving into large-cap American stocks. “Australian investors have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get as much money as they can into overseas assets, ideally blue-chip global industrial companies,” Mike Hawkins, head of private clients at Evans and Partners, tells The Australian. “When you’re talking about those high-quality global blue-chip names, the likes of Nestle and Procter and Gamble (NYSE:PG) and Kraft (NYSE:KFT) and Unilever (NYSE:UL), you’re talking about companies that are well tapped into the growth in income and demand coming from emerging markets. We see this as a bigger story than China and India’s demand for Australia’s raw materials: the growth of the emerging-market consumer is a far more powerful and enduring theme than simply the supply of raw materials to China.” As a middle class begins to develop in emerging markets, consumers will have more disposable income for food and hygiene products. American blue chips have been positioning themselves in those markets for decades, and it could finally start paying off as the falling dollar will make their goods more affordable on Chinese shelves.

4) Platinum and palladium stocks. In the precious metals community, the focus throughout 2010 was almost exclusively on gold and silver. Gold posted gains for the year of 30 percent and silver rose 80 percent. Platinum and palladium did just as well with palladium shooting up 100 percent in 2010 and platinum rising 20 percent. The gains in platinum and palladium largely came on the heels of increasing demand from China and India where the metals are used as autocatalysts to limit pollution from cars and other vehicles. Car sales surged 32 percent in China and 31 percent in India last year. GM’s President of International Operations Tim Lee expects that growth rate to slow to 10 to 15 percent in 2011 as commodity prices rise. Still, Lee points out that the sheer size of the market in China still equates to a lot of demand. “Even 10 to 15 percent growth on such a huge base makes China a vast market,” he tells AFP. For all the talk of hybrid and electric vehicles, they still only account for 3 percent of the auto market worldwide, meaning they’ll hardly dent the growing appetite for platinum and palladium. Stricter emission standards in the U.S. should also compensate for the decreased demand for platinum and palladium as more of the metals will be used to limit emissions. ETFs offer the easiest (and safest) way to get a finger in the palladium pot. Try ETFS Physical Palladium Shares (NYSE:PALL). PALL’s up 66 percent in the past six months.

5) Wealth management in emerging economies. My fifth and final pick comes from my personal portfolio: Noah Holdings Limited (NYSE:NOAH). A wealth management company, Noah serves high net worth individuals in China. After the company’s IPO in November, shares briefly spiked 30 percent and they’ve since flat-lined around the IPO price. Heavy resistance at $16 per share indicates that the downside risk is limited, and some analysts are calling for earnings growth of 35 percent in 2011 and a target price of $22 per share. The company’s numbers are off the charts with year-over-year growth in net revenue at 210 percent. It makes sense that as the ranks of China’s wealthy swell, so too will the profits at the companies that serve them. Noah Holdings should be perfectly positioned to rake in growing profits from a brand new market.

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Analysts like Noah Holdings Limited stock (AMEX:NOAH)

Currently trading at a P/E ratio of 89, Noah’s shares sound expensive, but the company’s growth just might justify the premium.

A month and a half after Noah Holdings Limited’s IPO (AMEX:NOAH), analysts have started weighing in on the Chinese wealth management company, and they seem to like what they see – even at what appears to be an extremely high price for shares in a young company.

Here’s the first batch of analyst ratings that started rolling in earlier this month: JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM) gives NOAH an “overweight” rating, and Roth Capital Partners joins Bank of America Corporation (NYSE:BAC) in listing it as a “buy.” Both Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC) and Oppenheimer (NYSE:OPY) started the stock at “perform.”

Noah targets wealth management products to high net worth individuals in China, and that’s a decent niche to fill. The ranks of China’s wealthy are swelling as high net worth individuals in the PRC controlled some $5.6 trillion in 2009, according to Reuters. That was good enough to rank them No. 4 in the world in terms of high net worth individuals in 2009.

Currently trading at a P/E ratio of 89, Noah’s shares sound expensive, but the company’s growth just might justify the premium. During the first half of 2010, Noah’s net revenue more than doubled to $13.7 million over the same period in 2009. Even better: Noah’s profits grew fivefold during that time span to $4.04 million.

“As investors, we like to see companies that can grow,” Benjamin Kirby, a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based analyst at Thornburg Investment Management, told Businessweek. Noah definitely meets that qualification, and that’s made me a believer in the stock.

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