In my weekly Fool column "Get Ready for the Fall," I run's 52-week highs list through the "wisdom of crowds" meter we call Motley Fool CAPS. The result: a list of stocks that have flown so high, investors are starting to get nervous about that whole "gravity" thing. But while many stocks will indeed plunge back to Earth, some seem immune to gravity, steadily riding a rising megatrend to ever-greater heights.

Today, we'll move beyond stocks that have hit 52-week highs, and identify companies now surpassing five solid years of outperformance. Which of these will thrash the market averages for another half-decade? Here are this week's leading contenders:


Recent Price

CAPS Rating
(out of 5):

Bull Factor





Buckle (NYSE:BKE)




Estee Lauder  (NYSE:EL)




American Caresource (AMEX:XSI)


Not rated


Cougar Biotechnology (NASDAQ:CGRB)


Not rated


Companies are selected from the "New 5-Year Highs" lists published on MSN Money on Thursday/Friday. CAPS ratings from Motley Fool CAPS.

"Everybody loves a winner"
Hey, don't look at me. I didn't write the truism, and I can't help it if this week, investors refused to follow the rules. Personally, I've got nothing against retail clothiers or cosmetics. And I'm downright in favor of health care, and against cancer. ("And that's why you should vote for me this election year ...")

And yet, perversely, it seems the highest-rated stock on today's list is ... UST. As in "U.S. Tobacco," purveyor of both Copenhagen and Skoal chaw, as well as a variety of fine wines available at your local supermarket (or liquor store, depending on local regulations). UST gets only a middling three-star rating from CAPS members -- but hey, in today's tumbling market, maybe that's what passes for optimism. Let's take a gander and see whether it's warranted:

The bull case for UST
I imagine CAPS All-Star dinze90 slowly chewing over the possibilities before sagely opining that yes, indeed: "tobacco still a pretty good business in a recession."

trigger013 agrees: "More people are switching to chewless tobacco. You cant smoke anywhere anymore and tobacco is easily accessible." Actually, I think trigger013 meant to say "smokeless" tobacco, but you get the point.

And completing this bullish trifecta, CAPS All-Star saunafool chimes in: "In this market, I believe any company that can maintain their earnings and pay dividends is going to beat the market. I think all the tobacco plays will do that, like the others UST pays a nice dividend (over 4% yield) and they pretty much own the 'smokeless' (i.e. chewing) tobacco market." (See? Smokeless.)

So UST looks like a safe dividend play -- and in fact, an even richer one than it was when saunafool checked it out. Before today, the dividend yield had risen to 4.7%. Just don't expect this stock to, ahem, set the world on fire. Unless, of course, the rumors are true. (Which rumors? Keep reading.)

Though its shares trade for nearly 15.4 times trailing earnings, analysts expect only middling 7% earnings growth from UST -- slower than its more incendiary rivals, like Altria (NYSE:MO) and British American Tobacco (NYSE:BTI). To me, that doesn't make it much of a value -- and it helps explain why CAPS members aren't terribly hot and bothered over UST's growth prospects. Still, there's something to be said for cashing a nice, steady stream of dividend checks as you watch growth stocks stumble all around you.

Time to chime in
Also nice -- and the reason for UST's jump aboard the five-year-high bandwagon this morning -- are the rumors floated by The New York Times this morning. The paper reports that Altria may be preparing a bid for UST next week. Depending on the premium paid, not to mention the truth of the rumors, today's price may be the end of the line for UST. Alternatively, if the rumors prove bogus, we'll need to brace for a sharp sell-off in the shares.

Fortunately, you don't have to "pays your money" to "takes your chance" on this gamble. Click on over to Motley Fool CAPS and tell us whether you think the buyout will happen -- and whether we should buy UST, even if Altria doesn't.