It's not exactly news that 2008 hasn't been a particularly fun time for financials. We've seen the loss or diminution of many once-venerable institutions, meaning that General Electric’s (NYSE:GE) report that it was going to be restructuring its commercial and consumer loan division to save $2 billion is not exactly a shocker.

Yet despite the disaster scenarios floating around, GE is earning $20 billion while generating $28 billion in free cash flow. It's no wonder the conglomerate is considered a top bargain stock these days.

There's also the small matter of its dividend. Where Citigroup (NYSE:C) was forced by the Treasury Department to slash its dividend to just a penny as a requirement of being bailed out, an otherwise financially sound GE will maintain its dividend, the first time in 32 years investors will not receive an increase. Some 52 companies in the S&P 500 have cut their dividends this year -- 43 of them were financial-services companies -- and as investors become more risk-averse these days, the supremacy of solid, dividend-paying stocks should become more attractive. GE, with a dividend currently yielding more than 7%, undoubtedly sits atop a lot of investor wish lists.

CAPS member mccormickcj points out that while General Electric's stock has been brought down by its financial interests, it remains a diversified entity with businesses in key growth areas:

GE is diversified in itself, they do a little bit of everything. They have been dragged down recently because of their involvement in financials, but have their hands in international business, green tech, and a strong defense branch, just to name a few. Even in bad times, their P/E and forward P/E look decent, and no signs that the 8% dividend is going anywhere either. A steal at this price

What's hot, what's not
Cisco is just one of several stocks Google's search activity shows as drawing more interest lately. Below are a few more hot stocks we've found by watching the giant's search trends, which we then pair up with ratings from the Motley Fool CAPS community. Over the first 20 months of tracking the collective intelligence, the data shows that newly minted five-star stocks offer the best opportunities for investors, while the lowest-rated companies have fared the worst. A five-star rating is the highest a company can get in CAPS.

By adding in some performance measures for the past year, we can get a handle on how these stocks are expected to do in the future. Here are a few topping the search engine.


CAPS Rating

Return on Capital, Last 12 Months

Long-Term Growth Est.

Chesapeake Energy (NYSE:CHK)








Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE)




General Electric




SunTrust Banks (NYSE:STI)




Sources: Google Finance; Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's.

Soul searching
On the surface, it looks like natural-gas producer Chesapeake Energy is leaking cash through a fissure in its pipelines. It sold a stake in its Marcellus shale assets last month to StatoilHydro (NYSE:STO) for $3.4 billion, and it finished up the month with shelf registrations on two potential offerings for 2009 that have the potential to significantly dilute shares. While there's no immediate need to raise cash (that's why the offerings will only be used next year if necessary), it's also true that the gas producer's cash flows have been insufficient to fund capital expenditure needs.

CAPS member mapboys finds that with natural gas prices on the decline, Chesapeake Energy is getting pushed into a tight corner:

Chesapeake continues to try to find new ways to raise money. The current shelf offering with and intent to sell shares in 2009 should not surprise anyone as a tactic to stay in business hoping for a turn around in Natural Gas to the $9-10 level where their resource (read shale, low quality tight gas)plays will again break even. A decline in rig rates might help but that requires renegotiating long term contracts.

CEO Michael Dell might not be Dell's savior, but CAPS member aj350 finds his moves to cut expenses at the computer maker to be a messianic journey that will pay off in the long run:

a lot of people are worried about growth because of dell's inability to catch onto trends early enough. i say that trends in the computing industry happen at such a slow rate these days that that's not important anymore. there are also now options to everything that most often u find "new products" selling at 30% less in just a matter of 2-3 months.

Seek and ye shall find
It takes more than a brief glimpse and a few searches to make buy or sell decisions. So start your own research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS, where your opinion can still save the day. While there, you can 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.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.