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Despite 2011 being a rough year for the financial sector, many names have rallied significantly since the turn of the year. For ideas on how to search through the sector, we ran a screen you may find interesting.

We screened the financial sector for stocks that are being highly shorted, with float shorts above 10%. We then screened for those with the optimism of the "smart money," with significant net institutional purchases over the current quarter.

Interactive Chart: Press Play to compare changes in analyst ratings over the last two years for the top six stocks mentioned below. Analyst ratings sourced from Zacks Investment Research.‬

We also created a price-weighted index of the stocks mentioned below, and monitored the performance of the list relative to the S&P 500 index over the last month. To access a complete analysis of this list's recent performance, click here.

Do you think these stocks are short squeeze candidates? Use this list as a starting point for your own analysis.

1. Advance America, Cash Advance Centers Inc. (AEA): Provides cash advance services in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Float short at 10.86%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 6.6M shares, which represents about 12.67% of the company's float of 52.11M shares.

2. American Equity Investment Life Holding Co. (AEL): Underwrites fixed annuity and life insurance products in the United States and the District of Columbia. Float short at 15.65%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 2.1M shares, which represents about 3.85% of the company's float of 54.56M shares.

3. AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. (AFSI): Operates as a multinational specialty property and casualty insurance company in the United States and internationally. Float short at 16.73%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 1.8M shares, which represents about 10.15% of the company's float of 17.74M shares.

4. Cullen/Frost Bankers, Inc. (CFR): Provides various banking and financial products and services primarily in Texas. Float short at 10.05%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 2.6M shares, which represents about 4.89% of the company's float of 53.17M shares.

5. Cohen & Steers Inc. (CNS): Provides investment management services to individual and institutional investors through a range of investment vehicles. Float short at 21.11%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 2.2M shares, which represents about 12.81% of the company's float of 17.18M shares.

6. Financial Engines, Inc. (FNGN): Provides independent, technology-enabled portfolio management services, investment advice, and retirement income services to participants in employer-sponsored defined contribution plans, such as 401(k) plans. Float short at 20.34%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 2.0M shares, which represents about 4.6% of the company's float of 43.51M shares.

7. Investment Technology Group Inc. (ITG): Operates as an agency brokerage and financial technology company in the United States, Canada, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region. Float short at 12.16%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 3.8M shares, which represents about 9.96% of the company's float of 38.17M shares.

8. MGIC Investment Corp. (MTG): Provides private mortgage insurance to the home mortgage lending industry in the United States. Float short at 20.06%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 25.8M shares, which represents about 13.15% of the company's float of 196.17M shares.

9. United Bankshares Inc. (UBSI): Provides commercial and retail banking services and products in the United States. Float short at 17.79%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 2.9M shares, which represents about 6.69% of the company's float of 43.38M shares.

10. Alleghany Corp. (Y): Engages in the property and casualty, and surety insurance business. Float short at 21.29%. Net institutional purchases in the current quarter at 681.6K shares, which represents about 12.22% of the company's float of 5.58M shares.

*Institutional data sourced from Fidelity, all other data sourced from Finviz.

Source: 10 Highly Shorted Financials With Smart Money Buying Interest