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 165,000-member community is full of investors helping each other beat the market.

We'll enlist CAPS to screen for solid 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.

Company

Dividend Yield

LT Debt-to-Equity Ratio

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Vodafone (Nasdaq: VOD)

7.3%

0.33

****

Merck (NYSE: MRK)

4.2%

0.26

****

Nokia (NYSE: NOK)

5.0%

0.29

***

Data and star rankings from CAPS as of June 25.

Vodafone
While some investors like the cash flow from stateside telecoms like AT&T (NYSE: T) -- which has increased its dividends for 26 consecutive years -- investors looking globally can take heart in Vodafone's decision to increase its dividend by at least 7% per year over the next three years. The global mobile operator reported a big uptick in fiscal-year earnings recently, and may also begin reaping further benefits from its stake in Verizon Wireless as Verizon Communications' management recently opened the door to the possibility of paying a dividend to Vodafone in 2012.

With its strong worldwide position, CAPS members rate Vodafone a solid four stars, with 93% of the 806 members rating Vodafone expecting it to outperform the broader market.  

Merck
Merck is reaping rewards from its Schering-Plough acquisition with the recent approval of its asthma drug Dulera. The combination drug will go up against AstraZeneca's (NYSE: AZN) Symbicort, which had a 29% first-quarter sales increase, and GlaxoSmithKline's (NYSE: GSK) Advair, which had a 4% uptick in first-quarter U.S. sales.

While Merck doesn't intend to raise its dividend in the near future, many CAPS members are bullish on its expanded list of drugs and the opportunity to launch many of those drugs in other countries. Overall, 93% of the 2,682 CAPS members rating Merck see it beating the S&P.                 

Nokia
Nokia's falling stock price hasn't been all bad; the decline has had the obvious effect of sending its dividend yield higher. But a significant number of CAPS members are growing concerned over the direction the company is headed. While Motorola (NYSE: MOT) is looking to divide and conquer and has been strengthening its relationship with Google to help turn around its mobile business, Nokia has been struggling in the high-end smartphone market and recently said it expects its mobile market share to be lower this year.

It still holds a solid market share lead over competitors like Apple and Google, but CAPS members aren't sure of its staying power and have the stock sitting at a middle-of-the-road three stars, with about 92% of the 2,740 CAPS members rating Nokia bullish.           

Let 165,000 members be the jury
The collective wisdom of a huge pool of investors can help give context to a page of numbers from a stock screen. But individual investors are still the best judges of what to do with their own money. Fools should always perform their own due diligence.

Happily, it's easy to chime in with your own opinion. If you agree that these companies present dream opportunities -- or see more of a nightmare instead -- simply scroll down and add your thoughts in the comments box.

The Motley Fool Income Investor service looks for companies with strong dividends and the strength to raise them in the future. To see the best stocks that meet these criteria, take a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Dave Mock dreams of stocks and sugarplum fairies, but not together. He owns shares of Motorola. Nokia is an Inside Value recommendation. Google is a Rule Breakers recommendation. Apple is a Stock Advisor choice. The Fool owns shares of GlaxoSmithKline. The Fool's disclosure policy screens the good, the bad, and the ugly.