Investments that have been successful over the long term almost assuredly share at least one thing in common -- growth. You'll be able to find very few companies that have been unable to increase their earnings and yet still have produced good returns for shareholders.

Think about it this way: Dividends aside, investors reap their gains when a company's stock price goes up. The stock price is typically driven by two levers, earnings and the multiple that investors are willing to pay for those earnings. Since earnings multiples tend to fluctuate within a certain range, long-term investors should have a keen focus on the company's ability to increase earnings.

Does that seem too simple? Keeping it simple is a good plan sometimes. After all, as Third Avenue's Marty Whitman has put it:

Based on my own personal experience -- both as an investor in recent years and an expert witness in years past -- rarely do more than three or four variables really count. Everything else is noise.

With that in mind, I've kept it simple and dug up five stocks that analysts expect will notch long-term earnings growth of 10% or better. I've also pulled up the CAPS rating for each stock to show what the 130,000 members of the Motley Fool's CAPS community think of the company's prospects.

Company

Expected growth

Forward P/E

CAPS rating
(out of 5)

DryShips (NASDAQ:DRYS)

25%

7

**

Marvel Entertainment (NYSE:MVL)

14%

16

****

Target (NYSE:TGT)

13%

13

***

Unitedhealth Group (NYSE:UNH)

12%

8

*****

EMC (NYSE:EMC)

10%

15

****

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's, Yahoo! Finance, and CAPS.

Wall Street analysts aren't known for being supernatural in their forecasting skills, so not all of these estimates may pan out. However, this list may be a good place to dig in for further research -- in fact, I'll even get you started with some thoughts on Marvel.

Feeding the growth
What makes Marvel so great? Spider-Man, Hulk, Green Goblin, Wolverine, Iron Man, Doctor Doom, Magneto -- shall I continue? Apocalypse, Thor, Gambit, the X-Men, Vulcan, the Brotherhood of Mutants -- get my point? Hopefully you said yes, because Marvel has a roster of over 5,000 characters, so we could be at this for a while.

While Marvel continues to publish comic books and license its characters to third parties, in 2008 it unleashed MVL Productions, a wholly owned production company that develops movies based on Marvel's characters. MVL allows the company to capture more of the profit from its characters' theatrical success. You may have heard of the first two movies that Marvel produced itself -- The Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. The combined box office results in just the U.S. was over $450 million.

And the company has high hopes for its future self-produced films, which are slated to include Iron Man 2, Thor, and The First Avenger: Captain America over the next couple years.

Calling all bulls
Marvel may be a bit of a midget when compared to media titans such as Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) and News Corp (NYSE:NWS), but with such a deep catalog of well-recognized and developed characters to pull from, we may be seeing only the tip of Marvel's iceberg. In fact, after Marvel's most recent earnings announcement, my fellow Fool Tim Beyers pounded the table, arguing that it's not too late to be a Marvel bull.

But he's not the only one. On CAPS there are nearly 3,800 members who have rated Marvel an outperformer, including wolfhounds, who recently said:

What does [Marvel] have that Disney and other studios don't? A cash generating monster in licensing. Their movies can be moderately successful and management will find more deals to ever increase the licensing of those incredibly popular characters. Just look at the recently announced deal with [Walgreen] to CREATE a line of toys and edibles based on [Marvel] characters in all 6000 stores. The roll out will begin in 2010 and has immense new potential with the timing of new theatrical reeases.

But what do you think?
Do these stocks have what it takes to post solid growth in this economy? Or have analysts been too optimistic? Currently there are over 130,000 members of the free CAPS community that are sharing their opinions on thousands of stocks. Head over to CAPS and let the community know what you think of Starbucks or any of the other stocks listed above.

Related CAPS Foolishness:

Marvel Entertainment and UnitedHealth are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. UnitedHealth is also an Inside Value pick, and the Fool owns shares of it. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Matt Koppenheffer does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. You can check out the stocks he's keeping an eye on by visiting his CAPS page or you can connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy likes to keep it simple -- make your disclosure properly and you don't get put in the dreaded triangle choke.