The Cream of the Mid-Cap Crop

Mid-cap stocks are sitting pretty compared with their larger counterparts. S&P's latest screen identifies 22 attractive names in the group

Where will the earnings growth be in 2008? According to statistics compiled by Standard & Poor's Chief Investment Strategist Sam Stovall, mid-caps are in the sweet spot for growth and valuation.

Based on earnings estimates by S&P equity analysts, mid-cap stocks (those in the S&P MidCap 400 index) should post profit growth of 15.8% this year, compared with an earnings growth estimate of only 7.9% for the S&P 500 index. While the price-to-earnings ratio for the mid-cap index is slightly higher—17.9 vs. 15.7 for the "500"—the p-e-to-growth ratio is identical for both indexes at 1.3.

"Mid-cap stocks have less exposure to subprime mortgages, and many of them are initiating or adding to dividends—even as some large-cap stocks cut their dividend payments," says Stovall.

What's the best way for investors to identify attractive mid-cap dividend stocks? One approach is to use S&P's Stock Appreciation Ranking System, or STARS. For this week's screen, we looked for dividend-paying stocks in the S&P MidCap 400 that also carried S&P STARS rankings of 4 STARS (buy) or 5 STARS (strong buy). Stocks with those designations are expected by S&P equity analysts to outperform the broader market on a total return basis during the next 12 months, with the shares rising in price on an absolute basis.

Twenty-two stocks made the cut. Check out the accompanying slide show for more info on the names on the list:

Company Ticker S&P STARS Rank
Bank of Hawaii BOH 4
Carlisle Cos. CSL 5
City National CYN 4
Corn Products International CPO 4
Cullen/Frost Bankers CFR 5
Energen EGN 4
Fastenal FAST 5
Harsco HSC 5
J.M. Smucker SJM 4
M.D.C. Holdings MDC 4
Manpower MAN 4
MDU Resources Group MDU 4
NSTAR NST 4
Oneok OKE 5
Oshkosh OSK 5
Pentair PNR 4
Regency Centers REG 4
Roper Industries ROP 4
Ross Stores ROST 4
Teleflex TFX 4
Universal Corp. UVV 4
Weingarten Realty WRI 4
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