"The bigger they are, the harder they fall." This old saying sums up the worst nightmare of every homeowner, every gold buyer, and every investor in today's market. Dare ye buy at the top?

Every day, MSN Money publishes a list of the market's top stocks -- the companies whose shares have just hit their highest intraday price of any time in the past 52 weeks. Every day, investors read this list and tremble -- some with greed (big mo', baby!), and others in pure, unmitigated, acrophobic terror (whatever you do, don't look down).

Over on Motley Fool CAPS, thousands of investors just like you are watching these same companies and voting their gut on whether they'll keep rising, or whether they'll stumble and fall. Usually, the ratings wax optimistic as stocks hit new highs -- because everyone loves a winner. But what do you make of it when some of the smartest investors out there are panning a hot stock?

You could heed them. You could ignore them. You could take the stock tickers and construct anagrams from 'em. For my money, though, the best course of action is to use the "52-week highs" list as just a starting point for further research. After all, stocks can go up for many reasons, and it's up to you to decide how worthy those reasons are. But thanks to Motley Fool CAPS, now you don't have to make the decision alone.

A change of pace
Every so often, just to mix things up, I like to look up from my list of who's up most in the last year, and take an even longer-term view. Today is one such day. Rather than focus on the one-year-best-gainers this week, let's take a step back and instead examine a corollary list, specifically, MSN's "New 5-Year Highs" list:


Five Years Ago Today

Currently Fetching

CAPS Rating

ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP)




National Oilwell Varco (NYSE:NOV)




Air Products (NYSE:APD)




Parker-Hannifin  (NYSE:PH)




Manpower (NYSE:MAN)




ExxonMobil (NYSE:XOM)




McDermott (NYSE:MDR)




Five stars = highest possible CAPS rating; one star = lowest. Companies are selected from the "New 52-Week Highs" list published on MSN Money on the Saturday following close of trading last week. CAPS ratings from Motley Fool CAPS.

Timing the market? No. Time in the market.
If there's a better, or more laconic, argument for long-term buy-and-hold investing than the above list of seven names and their attached numbers, I'd like to see it. Five years of patient ownership, and an investor in these seven companies would have been treated to a quartet of two-baggers, a three-bagger, and one incredible big eight-bagger -- all for sitting on his or her portfolio and doing nothing. Wow.

Little wonder, then, that investors who own these stocks today -- or who merely see how well they've performed over the past half-decade -- are loath to vote against them. Reviewing the stats on CAPS, I discovered that the above stocks receive an astounding average 93% approval rating on CAPS. Even the weakest of the seven, ExxonMobil, still gets the thumbs-up from 88% of the CAPS investors who've looked at it.

Build-a-bear, anyone?
With optimism prevailing, I'm hesitant to suggest that any one of these stocks looks "ready for the fall" this week. But that doesn't mean that you should remain silent. Do you know something that the rest of the investing universe does not? Can you build a bear case for one or more of the companies on this week's list?

If you can, then don't play the wallflower! Come on over to CAPS to tell us why you're right, and why everyone else -- on Wall Street and Main Street -- is wrong. Do a good enough job, and you just might find yourself featured in the stock's "Top Bear Pitch" box.

Motley Fool CAPS: It's fun, it's free, and it just might make you famous.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 1,291 out of nearly 29,000 rated players. The Fool has a disclosure policy.