Individual stocks can surge 10%, 25%, or even higher in a short period of time. And they can fall just as far, just as quickly. For example, shares in newspaper publisher Gannett (NYSE:GCI) gave back nearly 20% earlier this week as investors became wary of its earnings release.

Big drops in share price can sometimes signal material defects or new risks. But at other times, they're simply pullbacks along with the larger pessimism facing the market today. Fortunately, we have Motley Fool CAPS, a great resource to help us understand the larger picture behind big price drops.

Is the sky falling?
CAPS contains more than just the crowd's opinions. Its best-performing members' votes count more in shaping each company's rating than do the picks of their poorer-performing peers. That way, investors can intelligently use the collective wisdom of more than 130,000 CAPS members to make better decisions.

We'll use CAPS' handy stock screening tool to quickly zero in on companies that have been slashed by at least 15% in the last four weeks, and which have a market cap greater than $100 million and a beta of less than 3. If you want to run this screen for yourself, please do -- just keep in mind that the results will update with the market.

Company

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

4-Week
Price Change

H&R Block (NYSE:HRB)

*

(17.1%)

AngloGold Ashanti (NYSE:AU)

**

(15.2%)

Kinross Gold (NYSE:KGC)

***

(17.6%)

Source: Motley Fool CAPS. Price return March 20 through April 14.

H&R Block
The recent stimulus legislation contains a slew of newly available tax credits and other benefits that are now dangled in front of consumers and small businesses, driving more taxpayers to seek advice on the new changes. But demand for services at H&R Block has been waning as tax return volume was down through mid-March compared to last year.

The company's highly seasonal business depends on fiscal fourth-quarter results for almost all of its full-year revenue and net income, making it tough to gauge just how bad things may be in a volatile economy. And with most people tightening their financial belts these days, lower-cost online and self-prepared filings are in vogue. In fact, according to the IRS, electronically filed self-prepared returns are up 17% through April 10 compared to the same period last year.

With the trend toward more economical do-it-yourself alternatives, shares in H&R Block have taken a hit as people seek out less costly assistance. Today, CAPS members are split right down the middle on H&R Block, with half of the 420 members rating the company expecting it to beat the market, while the other half are in doubt.

AngloGold Ashanti & Kinross Gold
AngloGold Ashanti's financials took some big hits in the fourth quarter from hedging and impairments, but the miner still managed production of 1.27 million ounces of gold, while decreasing costs. Its first-quarter production will come in a little lighter though, at just 1.1 million ounces, down from previous guidance.

While AngloGold's reserves outshine smaller miners like Yamana Gold (NYSE:AUY) and Agnico-Eagle Mines, its costs are much higher, with $435-$450 an ounce forecast for 2009. And though the recent sale of its Boddington Mine stake to Newmont Mining (NYSE:NEM) will ease its debt load, some investors aren't happy about losing out on a very promising mine.

Fellow miner Kinross Gold has chosen a different path during the slowdown -- expanding via investments in the diamond industry. The company recently bought a stake in Harry Winston Diamond, whose shares have dropped significantly over the past year. Kinross also raised its ownership stake in the Diavik mine in far north Canada, which is majority owned by Rio Tinto, up to 15%. But Kinross certainly hasn't given up on gold. It likes the future potential of the Lobo-Marte mine project in Chile, which it nabbed on the cheap from Teck Cominco (NYSE:TCK) and Anglo American.

Despite a drop in share prices, Kinross and AngloGold have the confidence of John Paulson's hedge fund, which owns a sizable stake in each. CAPS members clearly favor Kinross over AngloGold though -- nearly 96% of the 1,311 CAPS members rating Kinross Gold are bullish, compared to only 89% of the 400 members rating AngloGold Ashanti.

Ultimately, whether or not you believe a fall in any stock is warranted, your own research is more important than collective opinions. CAPS can help you quickly focus your due diligence and even point out potential pitfalls you may not have seen.

Add your take on these or any of the more than 5,300 stocks that 130,000-plus members have covered in Motley Fool CAPS.

The Motley Fool Stock Advisor service looks for companies with strong fundamentals poised to beat the market over the long haul. To see all the stocks that have helped Tom and David Gardner beat the market by 38 points on average, take a free 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Dave Mock habitually looks for silver linings in even the darkest of clouds. He owns no shares of companies mentioned here. The Fool's disclosure policy is made of sugar and spice and everything nice.