When the clock's ticking down and the game's on the line, which of your teammates do you trust to sink a winning shot? Sure, you could dish the rock to your resident superstar -- but what if he's playing ice-cold at the moment? So instead, you pass to the guy with the hot hand, the one who'll be deemed en fuego tomorrow on ESPN.

Momentum investors are looking for stocks in a similar state of sizzle. But momentum by itself will only get you so far. I prefer to find high-quality stocks that also have some positive inertia on their side. It's like kicking the ball out to your team's superstars when they do have a hot hand.

There's no doubt that now's a tough time to try and find winners, but to find the current league leaders, I ran a simple momentum screen on The Motley Fool's CAPS screener. The performance of each of the stocks below managed to surpass the S&P 500's 8% gain over the past month, and each has been rated highly by CAPS players.


Four-Week Change

12-Month Change

CAPS Rating (out of 5)

Melco Crown Entertainment (NASDAQ:MPEL)




Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM)








U.S. Steel (NYSE:X)




UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH)




Sources: Yahoo! Finance, Capital IQ, and CAPS as of April 27.

At first glance this sure looks like a high-quality group. But, as always, I highly advise taking a close look before you throw a bounce pass in the direction of any of these stocks. In fact, I'll even kick off your research with a look at Yum! Brands.

Providing the pep
Yum! Brands may not perk up investors' ears the way competitors McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) and Burger King (NYSE:BKC) do, but when we look beyond the company's excited name, we find some very familiar brands, including KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell. The names KFC and Pizza Hut are so familiar to consumers that both brands made Interbrand's roundup of 2008's best global brands.

Given that we're knee-deep in earnings season, it shouldn't surprise you that a good deal of Yum!'s pep came from its first-quarter earnings report. It took some math to get to the year-over-year earnings-per-share comparison, but once you got there, it showed a 14% boost from the prior year. Total sales fell from 2008, and same-store-sales ticked up just 1%, but investors still sent shares of Yum! soaring on the news.

Looking ahead
So what's ahead for Yum! Brands? The folks on CAPS are buzzing about the stock for two main reasons -- safety and China. The safety part is pretty straightforward. When times are tough, it's more likely that strapped diners will be scarfing less Wolfgang Puck and Emeril, and more fried chicken, pizza, and tacos.

As for China, many investors see this as a major growth driver for Yum! as it's quickly entrenching the KFC and Pizza Hut brands in the emerging-market giant. I know what you're thinking, "Fried chicken and pizza in China?" And the answer is, simply, "Yes" -- somehow Yum! got it to work. In fact, if we revisit those first-quarter numbers, we can see just how well it's working in the 27% jump in operating profit. And with 3,103 stores currently in place in China versus around 20,000 in the U.S., it's safe to say there's still room for Yum! to grow in China.

Underscoring Yum!'s opportunity to spread abroad, here's CAPS All-Star sandvig from earlier this year:

Chicken, pizza, tacos. Pretty darn simple.

America is the undisputed world leader in junk food. The opportunity is ripe to take our expertise abroad. YUM has the equivalent of three Michelin stars- one for KFC, one for Pizza Hut, and one for Taco Bell!

I currently have a bullish thumbs-up on Yum! in CAPS, though I have to admit this is a situation where I like the company's prospects a lot more than I like the stock's valuation. China opportunity or not, a forward price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) of 16 in this market is getting a bit expensive. That said, I plan to stick with the stock unless it continues to ride a tailwind and hits a truly overpriced valuation. In the meantime, I'll just sit back and let that 2.2% dividend bolster my gains.

Fielding your team
So do you think any (or all!) of these companies deserve a place on your All-Star team? You can share your thoughts or check out more of what your fellow Fools had to say about Yum! or any of the other stocks above by stopping by CAPS. And while you're there you can take a peek at a few more of the 5,300-plus other stocks that are rated on CAPS.

I think I heard a booyah somewhere out there -- thanks Stuart Scott!

More CAPS Foolishness:

FedEx and UnitedHealth Group are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. UnitedHealth Group is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Melco Crown Entertainment is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool owns shares of UnitedHealth Group. 

When it comes to basketball, Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer might be the guy Ron Shelton was thinking of when he thought of the title White Men Can't Jump. Matt does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool's disclosure policy has a 55'' vertical jump and can dunk from half-court. Or so I hear.