Wednesday's Top 5 Rocket Stocks

Ask a cheapskate value investor to buy a stock that's achieved a new 52-week high, and you'll get one of two responses:

  1. Hysterical laughter.
  2. Sudden nausea.

Feel sorry for them, Fool.

How many times has Apple touched a 52-week high on its way to yesterday's close of $166.11? Too many to count, of course. Those who panicked at the thought of buying at the top have missed out on a 20-bagger since 2002.

Let that be a lesson. Rocket stocks -- that is, high-growth stocks that are also realizing heavy price appreciation -- are sometimes worth buying.

Rocket stocks, not rocket science
And sometimes they're worth buying in bulk. Think ofBaidu.com. My buddy Rick Munarriz recommended China's top search engine to our Rule Breakers subscribers at $83.37 in October of last year.

I thought he was nuts. I mean it. The stock was both expensive and on a tear. So, I argued against buying it in a duel in January here at Fool.com. Now Baidu is a four-bagger. How I wish I had listened to what Rick was telling me those months ago.

Don't do as I did. Never assume an expensive stock is too expensive. What looks like a cliff could really be base camp on a climb toward the summit of Everest. Each day in this column, with the help of the 74,000 pro and amateur stock pickers in our Motley Fool CAPS community, we'll seek to find those still climbing.

Our candidates will be found daily in the 52-week high lists at The Wall Street Journal. But few highfliers will make the cut; we're looking for stocks expected to boost net income by at least 15% annually over the next five years and that earn at least three of five stars from our CAPS contingent.

Here are today's top five for your consideration:

Company

Closing Price

CAPS Rating

(5 max)

5-Year Growth Est.

52-Week

Range

Astronics (NASDAQ:ATRO)

$47.28

*****

25.0%

$14.56-$47.70

optionsXpress (NASDAQ:OXPS)

$30.14

*****

22.5%

$20.78-$30.64

Abaxis (NASDAQ:ABAX)

$32.99

*****

20.0%

$16.94-$33.24

GFI Group (NASDAQ:GFIG)

$95.05

*****

17.0%

$55.36-$98.14

Votorantim Celulose e Papel (NYSE:VCP)

$33.22

*****

15.0%

$16.67-$34.22

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! Finance, Motley Fool CAPS.

Our mostly small-cap list features some promising though speculative stocks. Yet these tiny titans can create astounding returns if bought before they get discovered. Witness blood analyzer Abaxis, which is up 60% over the past year, easily besting the S&P 500's 6% return over that time.

There are always options
Sometimes, small caps run in bunches. Today, it's the brokers -- GFI and optionsXpress. Unlike white-shoe capital-destroyers Merrill Lynch (NYSE: MER  ) and Bear Stearns (NYSE: BSC  ) , small-timers like optionsXpress, which specializes in -- surprise! -- brokering options, keep costs low as they make advanced tools accessible.

It's for that very reason David Gardner added its shares to the Stock Advisor portfolio last year at this time. Quoting from his original write-up:

This company has been heaped with praise for its features and service. It has been voted the best online brokerage by Barron's  for the past four years running. And in 2004, SmartMoney even dubbed it "nearly flawless." It is beloved by investors who want to execute complex options strategies, but it offers simple, straightforward trading, too -- all with fast execution times and staff who can answer difficult questions.

Customer loyalty makes for an excellent business. Witness optionXpress' latest metrics report. Yesterday morning, the company reported 5,000 net new customers and a 64% increase in its daily average revenue trades during October.

But optionsXpress has been on a roll for a while. Gross margin has improved every year since 2002 and is still rising. Net margin, meanwhile, remains near 40% -- a breathtaking number for any business. Accordingly, I'll be adding the stock to my CAPS portfolio today.

Intrigued? Do your own due diligence, then check in with thousands of other investors at CAPS. If you'd like, add your own commentary. You'll be helping your fellow Fools and testing your ideas at the same time. Click here to get started now; the service is 100% free.

See you back here tomorrow for more rocket stocks.


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