As if paying more at the pump didn't cause enough of a hardship, paying more to heat your homes just adds insult to injury. Ameren (NYSE:AEE), a public utility serving customers in Missouri and Illinois, expects to impose price increases on its customers -- it will charge as much as 30% more for natural gas this winter, on top of a 9% increase in delivery prices. And that comes after a 50% jump that its customers took on the chin last year. Nor is the pain likely to be over: The company plans to seek more rate increases in the future.

Yet you can't blame the utility. Its costs are rising rapidly. It uses natural gas to help generate electricity, and without the ability to pass along costs to the end user, it would go out of business. So Ameren's higher prices might seem like rubbing salt in the wound when we're already paying more for everything, but it's a necessary adjustment.

Some investors, meanwhile, have seen the opportunity that rising natural-gas prices represent for Ameren. CAPS member taniak87 figured this company was a long-term investing opportunity back in February: "The price of Natural Gas is up and will continue going up so more and more people are turning to electric instead of gas. This is a great stock to be invested in for the long run."

Screening for likeability
Ameren showed up on a screen of companies that have enjoyed growing investor support after wallowing in disfavor six months ago. Ameren jumped from a two-star Motley Fool CAPS rating back in May to a three-star rating today while also enjoying a valuation below that of the market.

CAPS is a 115,000-plus-member investor community that rates thousands of stocks on whether they will outperform or underperform the market. It's not a predictive service, but our research has found that the 20-month returns of stocks in the CAPS universe correlated precisely with their relative CAPS ranking. Top-rated three-, four-, and five-star stocks outperformed low-rated one- and two-star stocks.

Here are a few of the other companies the CAPS screener found that are currently enjoying significant investor support:

Company

CAPS Rating January

CAPS Rating Today

P/E

PEG*

Ameren

**

***

12.8

2.1

Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO)

**

***

15.9

1.2

Life Time Fitness (NYSE:LTM)

**

***

18.7

0.8

Mohawk Industries (NYSE:MHK)

**

***

7.2

2.8

Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST)

**

***

17.8

1.0

Sources: Motley Fool CAPS, Morningstar. *For next fiscal year.

Naturally, this is not a list of stocks to buy and sell but rather a starting point for further analysis. Investors have raised their outlook significantly on these companies, and they know that long-term outperformance is best achieved by investing in growing, well-run companies that consistently increase shareholder value.

Pinching pennies and walking the floor
Family Dollar has made the best of a dour economic situation. Not only are customers looking to stretch their paychecks, but also, when the government started throwing money around in an attempt to stimulate the economy, companies such as Family Dollar and Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) seemed to make out the best. As CAPS member tocrp said of the situation, "Saving money is the name of the game."

Meanwhile, getting run over -- or at least walked over -- is commonplace when it comes to flooring specialist Mohawk Industries, but the housing market's implosion has hit the company hard. Still, along with Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-A) division Shaw Carpets, value continues to be found underfoot.

CAPS member ilyaz1 recognizes that Mohawk has gotten a little threadbare as a result of the economy, and though consumers probably didn't use their stimulus checks to buy carpeting, the company is stable enough to survive:

Good moat, stock is out of favor because of the economic [environment] but the company itself is great. Trading near 52 week low is a good entry point. See this one rebounding.

Take a CAPS bow
There are many ways to screen for stocks to beat the market. You can use the new CAPS screener to find other stocks you're going to want to own and then start your own research on these stocks on 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. Head on over to CAPS now.

Wal-Mart and Berkshire Hathaway are Inside Value selections. Berkshire Hathaway is also a Stock Advisor pick and the Fool owns shares. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey owns shares of Wal-Mart but has no financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.