Some companies are obviously great investments -- in hindsight. Sure, we should have bought Starbucks at its IPO and earned amazing returns over the years. Yet for every stock out there screaming, "Buy me!," others simply give us a nudge and a nod. How can we tell tomorrow's obviously great investments from the thousands of pretenders?

The stars' walk of fame
On Motley Fool CAPS, these opportunities can be found among our four-star stocks. In CAPS' proprietary ratings system, they rank higher than most of the other 5,700 stocks in the CAPS universe, but they're just shy of superstardom. While all the attention might be focused on their five-star peers, we can sift through CAPS to find four-star companies nearing greatness:

  • Ciena (NASDAQ:CIEN)
  • Newell Rubbermaid (NYSE:NWL)
  • China Automotive Systems (NASDAQ:CAAS)
  • ATP Oil & Gas (NASDAQ:ATPG)
  • Bunge (NYSE:BG)

Some of these names might surprise you. Newell Rubbermaid, for example, has been providing us with containers to store our stuff for more than a century. Almost great? Even familiar names can still offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold. However, the 105,000 CAPS investors chose these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys, so let's find out why they might merit your attention.

A failure to communicate
The telecom industry is still growing here in the U.S., although much of the talk seems to focus on emerging markets like China and Russia. Ciena continues to benefit from the rollout of equipment upgrades, and it has just reported a blazing 64% growth in profits on 25% revenue growth. So much for the fear that Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) or Nortel would dial up the competition. Ciena reports that it's gaining market share and has been adding new customers along the way.  

The market found some static in what Ciena had to say, and the stock dropped like a phone connection in a dead spot. Considering the company's growth potential and its cash flow-generating capabilities, there's more than just one Fool who thinks the telecom equipment maker will get high-speed access to profits.

Still there could be crossed signals ahead. Ciena's acquisition of World Wide Packets may increase costs for the company and make it rely even more on AT&T (NYSE:T) as a customer. Moreover, some analysts feel that the deal was much too expensive considering the low valuations prevalent in the industry. And despite claims of WWP's revenue ramping up, it might not be enough to justify the cost.

CAPS player anzuwin thinks analyst concerns are overblown and the company's business looks solid:

Simply a ridiculous downgrade by the S&P which caused shares to fall 8% on earnings day. Earnings were beat by 3c (40c vs. 37c estimate) without one-time charges. Guidance was also reaffirmed "comfortably." S&P reported an earnings miss and downgraded the stock -- erroneous.

But digitalsean thinks that Ciena's business can expand further, although the addition of enterprise business is an unknown:

Bandwidth continues to be in demand around the world. They produce much of the core carrier hardware to meet these demands. Moving now into the enterprise space which will be a big wild card for them to integrate into their portfolio.

A great opportunity for you
You've heard directly from CAPS on Ciena, but do you agree? Are these four-star stocks still investment-grade material? On Motley Fool CAPS, you can give your input, which ultimately influences how they're rated. Outperform or underperform, near-term or well in the future, your opinion counts.

Sign up today for Motley Fool CAPS; it is completely free. Let's us hear what you have to say about the great -- and almost great -- companies that interest you.