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
On Motley Fool CAPS, you'll find these opportunities among our four-star stocks. In CAPS' proprietary ratings system, they rank higher than most of the other 5,300 starred companies, but they're just shy of superstardom. While their five-star peers enjoy the lion's share of the limelight, we can sift through CAPS to find four-star companies approaching greatness. Here are a handful of recent contenders:

  • Iconix Brand Group (NASDAQ:ICON)
  • Lloyds Banking Group (NYSE:LYG)
  • Shaw Group (NYSE:SGR)
  • Western Refining (NYSE:WNR)

Some of these names might surprise you. Iconic financial institution Lloyds has been offering financial services since before the founding of this country. Almost great? Even familiar names can still offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold. Still, the 130,000-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?
The market decided to go with the nuclear option regarding shares of construction and engineering company Shaw Group. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's declaration that a Florida site owner needed to get its license before Shaw could start prep work for a nuclear power operation will delay the two planned plants' operational dates by at least 20 months.

The company says that the decision doesn't affect its earnings for 2009, though. Last month Shaw said it expected to earn between $2.10 and $2.30 a share; analysts charted a middle course, forecasting profits of $2.21 a stub. The company says it's still on track, but the stock dropped 9% on the news and has slid further since.

As usual, the manic Mr. Market seems to have taken a shortsighted view of the situation. Progress Energy (NYSE:PGN), the utility interested in building the reactor, had hoped to get the site prep work done early while it applied for a constructions and operation license for the facility. But the delay doesn't actually harm the project; indeed, it may help see it through. By postponing the project for two years, Progress believes the economy will have improved enough to make financing easier to obtain. In short, Shaw should enjoy the same benefit; it'll just be stretched out over a longer time frame.

After all, Shaw's nuclear reactor construction business is now booming. In addition to the Progress project, which first hit Shaw's backlog at the beginning of the year, the construction and engineering specialist also has a contract with Southern (NYSE:SO) to build two reactors in Georgia. Furthermore, it recently signed an agreement with State Nuclear Power Technology in China, allowing both companies to issue tasks to support each other in growing the country's nuclear infrastructure business. China has plans to build 30 or more nuclear reactors by 2020, and Shaw has contracts for at least five of the plants currently on the drawing board.

Additionally, this powerhouse has contracts with major oil companies and the U.S. government. So this delay in Florida shouldn't amount to much, even if financing doesn't flow as easily as Progress anticipates.

Investors seem poised to take advantage of the market's myopia. CAPS member tickertale, for example, seems eager to make up for lost time: "I believe this sell-off on the Florida glitch makes a good entry opp. for late-comers like myself."

CAPS All-Star Lbills22 particularly favors Shaw's China angle: "Longterm play on China growth, I look for this stock to bump alongside what I expect will be an increase in China's stimulus package."

A great opportunity for you
If these four-star investments truly are on their way to five-star greatness, it might well pay 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 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. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.