Think of investor sentiment as a pendulum that swings in tandem with a company's share price. When investors begin to think highly of your company, its stock might also start heading in the right direction. Alas, you can rarely tell when investors are warming to a stock until after it's made that upward swing.

An astrolabe for investors
But Motley Fool CAPS' proprietary ratings, aggregated from the opinions and accuracy of 130,000-plus members and running from one star to five stars, offer a great way to monitor investor sentiment. Like astronomers scanning the skies, investors can follow a stock's stars through its CAPS rating trend, tracking investor sentiment to help determine the best time to invest. So let's look at previously rated one- or two-star companies that have recently enjoyed a bump in investor confidence, and see whether the stars are really aligning in their favor.

Company

CAPS Rating
(5 max)

Recent Price

Next Year EPS Growth

(Estimate)

Chiquita Brands (NYSE:CQB)

***

$6.52

26%

Churchill Ventures (NYSE:CHV)

***

$8.14

NA

Masco (NYSE:MAS)

***

$7.35

172%

Psychiatric Solutions (NASDAQ:PSYS)

***

$15.85

12%

Royal Gold (NASDAQ:RGLD)

***

$46.07

43%

Source: Motley Fool CAPS, Yahoo! Finance. EPS = earnings per share.

Of course, this isn't a list of stocks to buy -- just a starting point for further research. Yet if some of the best investing minds are taking notice of these stocks, maybe we should, too.

The sun's always shining somewhere
As wholesome as fresh fruit seems to be, a dark core has made for some rotten business. Chiquita Brands -- best known for its bananas (and not just because of the catchy tune) -- slipped on a peel a few years ago because of protection payments it made to terrorist groups in Colombia. Chiquita's punishment in the U.S. included a $25 million fine.

This "old news" impacts the banana grower's operations today because of lawsuits filed against the company for deaths the terrorist organizations caused while receiving money from the company. Meanwhile, the pungent odor of unsavory labor relations has dogged rival fruit companies Fresh Del Monte Produce (NYSE:FDP), Dole Foods, and Del Monte Foods (NYSE:DLM), the former parent of Fresh Del Monte Produce.

The distraction of such issues doesn't help create enthusiasm for investing when the business is declining at the same time. Chiquita posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $411.9 million, or $9.27 a share, as it wrote down a goodwill impairment charge of $374.5 million. To turn things around, Chiquita is raising banana prices and dropping vendors who don't go along with the new prices. This comes as consumers are already passing up the company's higher-cost, ready-to-eat, packaged produce, no doubt in favor of cheaper fresh fare they prepare themselves.

Still, CAPS member ExitGrindAt50 thinks Chiquita represents a bargain at these beaten-down prices. Consumers will not give up eating bananas, and since the fruit represents 57% of Chiquita's revenues, that is where the potential lies, this investor says:

The primary revenue generator here is bananas. Are people going to stop eating bananas during a recession? NO. Will people opt for alternatives to bagged salad products? Perhaps, but [Chiquita] is eliminating vendors who are not willing to absorb their price increases. If you cannot sell it for a profit, why sell it at all? Plus, this company generates a healthy amount of cash flow - which could see some major improvement if current EU tariffs are reduced. They also do not have any major debt maturities to repay until 2014. Management alluded to '09 earnings being in the neighborhood of $1.12 (better than '08). And this does not factor in any EU tariff reductions.

Shine your starlight
So are these stocks driving ahead or ready to crash? It pays to start your research on these stocks on Motley Fool CAPS. Type in a ticker and 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. Then weigh in with your own thoughts.

Masco is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey does not have a financial position in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy loves little baby ducks and old pickup trucks.