Investors are always hunting for the next big stock -- the dream stock whose price increases several times over when the market finally discovers it. It's easy to look back and discover the 10 best stocks of the past decade. But I'm more interested in the tools that can help me evaluate tomorrow's greatest companies.

Motley Fool CAPS offers a variety of resources to aid Fools in finding tomorrow's leaders. Our 130,000-member community is full of investors helping each other beat the market.

We'll enlist CAPS to screen for dividend-paying companies, then get the story behind some of its more highly rated stocks. CAPS' nifty screener will help us find stocks with:

  • A market cap of at least $1 billion.
  • A long term debt-to-equity ratio of less than 0.5.
  • A dividend yield of at least 4%.
  • A price-to-earnings ratio of less than 25.

Then we'll tap the collective intelligence of our CAPS members to see whether these companies present real opportunities -- or whether the numbers fail to tell the true story.

Opinions with the numbers
Below is a sample of stocks our screen returned. You can run this screen yourself -- remember, though, that your results may differ from ours as the market changes.

Company

Dividend
Yield

LT Debt-to-Equity
Ratio

CAPS Rating
(5 stars max.)

Scotiabank (NYSE:BNS)

6.2%

.23

*****

Aflac (NYSE:AFL)

6.9%

.26

****

Chevron (NYSE:CVX)

4%

.07

****

Data and star rankings from CAPS as of March 13.

Scotiabank
It's only a few months into 2009, but major U.S. commercial banks like Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) and Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) have already slashed their dividends to save billions as the global downturn unfolds. However, more conservative lending practices at Canadian banks have helped them avoid much of the risk that other nations have encountered, and none of Canada's five largest banks, including Scotiabank, has cut its dividend since World War II. Scotiabank's diversified revenue base helped it post better-than-expected revenue in its most recent quarter, and also improved the bank's capital position, leading the president and CEO to describe its dividend payment as "safe." With the company looking to grow earnings per share by 7% to 12% in 2009 and confidence in its payout, nearly 97% of the 531 CAPS members rating Scotiabank expect it to outperform the market.

Aflac
Mixed opinions have been issued concerning supplemental insurance provider Aflac's capital position recently, with Morgan Stanley issuing an upgrade a few weeks before a downgrade on the company's default rating came from Fitch. There's been concern over the company's European exposure, which include investments in U.K. banks Royal Bank of Scotland (NYSE:RBS) and HBOS. But even with the risk of further writedowns on some assets, many CAPS members remain bullish on the stock and feel the recent drops in price are a good opportunity. In fact, 95% of the 1,240 CAPS members rating Aflac see it beating the S&P.

Chevron
While many CAPS members expect oil prices to eventually recovery on the back of increased demand, Chevron is taking a slow approach to investments in some areas while it waits for costs to come down. It plans on keeping its $22.8 billion capital budget unchanged from last year -- much like peers BP (NYSE:BP) and Total, which also have plans for relatively flat budgets. ExxonMobil is a Big Oil standout, with its plan to increase capital spending this year.

But Chevron still has a long list of projects around the world and will spend on new projects that enhance its long-term growth strategy. The company has also grown its dividend at an annual rate of 12% over the past five years and sports a well-funded payout. With an attractive yield at the current share price, 95% of the 2,968 CAPS members rating Chevron expect it to beat the market.

Let 130,000 members be the jury
The collective wisdom of a huge pool of investors can help give context to a stock screen's page of numbers. But even with an entire community of qualified opinions acting as the jury, an individual investor is still the judge. Fools should always perform their own due diligence.

Run your favorite factors through the Motley Fool CAPS screener. It's totally free, and we think you'll like the results.

Many solid companies that pay great dividends have been put on the recommended list of the Motley Fool Income Investor service. To see all the dividend-paying stocks that have the service beating the market by four points on average, take a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Dave Mock dreams of stocks and sugarplum fairies, but not together. He owns shares of ExxonMobil. The Bank of Nova Scotia and Total are Income Investor picks. Aflac is a Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool's disclosure policy screens the good, the bad, and the ugly.