Some companies are obviously great investments -- in hindsight. 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
The data shows that stocks achieving the maximum five-star ratings on Motley Fool CAPS have outperformed the market by 12 percentage points and that newly minted five-star stocks represent your best opportunity to capture those returns. So let's sift through the proprietary ratings system and find those stocks heading toward superstardom. Here are a handful of four-star companies approaching greatness.

  • Ashland (NYSE:ASH)
  • Bunge (NYSE:BG)
  • Huntsman (NYSE:HUN)
  • MF Global (NYSE:MF)

Some of these names might surprise you. Agricultural products specialist Bunge, for example, has been around since 1818. 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 125,000-plus CAPS members chose these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys, so let's see why they might merit your attention.

In the sight of greatness
The bankruptcy filing by specialty chemical company Lyondell Chemical seems to underscore what Hexion Chemical was saying as it tried to back out of a deal to acquire Huntsman: The two companies together would equal one bankrupt mess. Dow Chemical (NYSE:DOW) is seeing its own deals unravel, after Kuwait backed out of a joint venture and Dow's bid to take over Rohm & Haas (NYSE:ROH) is now in jeopardy.

The courts didn't buy Hexion's argument, saying that a change in business prospects didn't give it the right to undo the merger. So Huntsman, figuring $1 billion in the hand is worth forgoing a trial, eventually agreed to a hefty settlement. The outcome of a drawn-out court battle could have been very unpredictable, after all. As it is, Huntsman will be using the settlement to pay down its debt and set itself up for a more financially secure future.

The spate of bad news in the sector would seem perfect for driving down valuations and eventually causing someone to step in and buy Huntsman up. That's what CAPS member tedamerica anticipates will happen:

Excellent business model, received cash settlement from failed takeover attempt by hexion, makes "green friendly" chemicals. The big boys will wait a quarter or two to watch profits and after the latest economic debacle cannot take a risk with their clients money. Little guys can get in now. Don't go overboard on this one but this would make a great speculative play on chemicals.

Meanwhile, many factors suggest that we'll see a depressed cycle in chemicals, but some think the recent rise in oil prices just might help out some companies. Ashland, for one, would see an increase in demand for its products as customers seek to restock inventories. CAPS All-Star Junkyardhawg1985 reports liking it: "Trades below net cash. ... P/E of 3.7, price to net tangible assets of 0.21, and revenue growth of 6%."

A great opportunity for you
These four-star investments are on their way to five-star greatness, and it pays to start your own research on these stocks at Motley Fool CAPS. Read a company's financial reports, scrutinize key data and charts, and examine the comments your fellow investors have made -- all from a stock's CAPS page.

Sign up today for the completely free service, and let's hear what you have to say about the great -- and almost great -- companies that interest you.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Huntsman but has no financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. MF Global is a Global Gains recommendation. Dow Chemical is an Income Investor selection. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.