Some companies are obviously great investments -- in hindsight. Yet for every stock out there screaming "buy me," others simply give us a nudge and a nod. How can we tell tomorrow's obviously great investments from the thousands of pretenders?

The stars' walk of fame
The data shows that stocks achieving five-star ratings on Motley Fool CAPS have outperformed the market by 12 percentage points and newly minted five-star stocks represent your best opportunity to capture those returns. So let's sift through the proprietary ratings system and find those stocks heading toward superstardom. Here are a handful of four-star firms approaching greatness:

  • BreitBurn Energy Partners (NASDAQ:BBEP)
  • Brocade Communications (NASDAQ:BRCD)
  • News Corp (NYSE:NWS)
  • Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM)
  • Shaw Group (NYSE:SGR)

Some of these names might surprise you. Qualcomm has been synonymous with wireless telecommunications for years. Almost great? Even familiar names can still offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold. However, the 120,000-plus CAPS members chose these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys so let's see why they might merit your attention.

In the sight of greatness
Networking equipment maker Brocade Communications has been poised to pop for months now. But with worldwide chip revenues expected to barely rise in 2009, it has tried to shore up its base by acquiring Foundry Networks (NASDAQ:FDRY) to position it for the future. CAPS member texans2 was already enthusiastic about the company's prospects back in August and believes the Foundry acquisition will only make things better.

Brocade is the undisputed leader in SAN infrastructure (Fibre Channel) devices and continues to add to its portfolio of software & services products. Now with the Foundry acquisition Brocade is posed to lead in IP networking.

Shaw Group is a diversified energy engineering and construction firm with feet in both the nuclear and fossil-fuel camps, but it's the nuclear option that intrigues many investors. The company has been reporting strong backlog of orders in the segment since the summer, and it has probably been able to benefit as well from the tug of war going on between Warren Buffett and Electricite de France over the nuclear assets of Constellation Energy (NYSE:CEG).

While the energy capabilities are indeed attractive when it comes to Shaw, CAPS member Beartracks1 also likes its other assets -- particularly its infrastructure exposure, in light of proposed new public works projects: "I believe this company is set to fly in the new administration. If the stimulus pkg that the new pres. is touting is tied to infrastructure buildout this should really take off."

Throughout August and September, directors at the independent oil and gas limited partnership BreitBurn Energy Partners were making market purchases of their stock as shares slid from around $18 to around $15 a stub. That was a bullish sign for CAPS All-Star member dexion10, who foresaw demand for oil returning in the future in this August pitch.

Insider buying at this Oil & Gas MLP that pays a 12% dividend.

Since BBEP specializes in oil production over time it should be valued much much higher as oil production globally is plateauing while demand is growing.

While the price of BreitBurn's stock has continued to decline since then, the CAPS community seems to agree that the E&P partnership represents a great opportunity, since its star rating has risen recently.

A great opportunity for you
These four-star investments are on their way to five-star greatness, and it pays to 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.

Sign up today for the completely free service and let's us hear what you have to say about the great and almost great companies that interest you.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.