Whether in the corporate lunchroom, your cubicle, or the local watering hole after work, there are regular places we gather to discuss news, sports or -- if you're like us -- stocks. Here at Motley Fool CAPS, we gather around the virtual watercooler daily to rate stocks and delve into their merits as investments.

Our 135,000-strong CAPS community -- where members give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down to some 5,300 stocks -- seeks businesses it thinks will outperform the market. Below, we'll take a look at some of the most popular and talked-about stocks in the CAPS universe, and examine whether you think they'll continue their winning ways:

Stock

CAPS Rating (Out of 5)

No. of Calls

% Outperform Calls

Natus Medical (NASDAQ:BABY)

*****

1,492

97%

Novartis (NYSE:NVS)

*****

1,374

97%

Sun Hydraulics (NASDAQ:SNHY)

*****

1,433

99%

Terex (NYSE:TEX)

*****

1,406

97%

Toll Brothers (NYSE:TOL)

*

1,413

43%

A tall drink of water
Like Captain Ahab scanning the oceans for Moby Dick, modern-day investing whalers had reason to shout "There she breaches!" when sales of new single-family homes jumped nearly 10% in July. The housing market is suddenly roiling the waves, and harpooners might be tempted to take to their boats in pursuit of the homebuilder whale.

Yet before launching after such a beast with the hubris of Ahab, investors would do well to consider the earnings report of builders like Toll Brothers. Toll and its fellow companies have been constructing white elephants, not white whales, in this recession. Third-quarter results for Toll show a wider loss of $472 million, or $2.93 a share. Management sees cause for optimism, though; cancellations fell to 8.5% from 19% a year earlier. Toll expects to deliver between 475 and 725 homes next quarter, at an average price of as much as $575,000.

Though housing prices also rose last month, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller price index, the $8,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers is still spurring demand, causing homebuilders like Hovnanian (NYSE:HOV) to jump 10% on the news.

Like the Cash for Clunkers program, which provided a false sense of demand for cars, the expiration of the housing tax credit, coupled with continuing supply of foreclosed homes, portends another plunge in the housing market.

Highly rated CAPS All-Star member ibarz marks the homebuilder to underperform, wondering who, exactly, is buying Toll's McMansions these days. Another All-Star, Gtrinvestor, has a more upbeat outlook: "I believe [Toll Brothers] will make it through at this point, and if so, then there is certainly upside to where they are currently priced."

From an ocean to a droplet
Rather than chasing whale-sized estates, some two dozen pharmaceuticals and biotechs are pursuing a more microscopic quarry: a vaccine for swine flu. Public fears of a pandemic have abated since the first outbreaks, but as we approach flu season again, health care professionals fear we may suffer a more pronounced attack.

Along with sanofi-aventis (NYSE:SNY), Novartis will be one of a handful of companies providing the bulk of the vaccine for the H1N1 virus. It has a $1 billion contract from the government to develop the vaccine, and both vaccines and biologics account for a quarter of its drug pipeline. Though it just received FDA approval for its treatment of multiple sclerosis, Novartis still has a long pipeline of drugs it expects to develop over the next few years.

CAPS member emptygestures likes Novartis's future prospects:

One of the many companies that are developing the H1N1 vaccine. While many people have overlooked the problem that struck for a brief period of time, this will have devastating consequences come fall/winter when influeza is most persistent. That and El Nino is scheduled to hit giving us more unusual weather and unstable rain.... This should only make the flu more persistent and thus their research more valuable.. Great company overall with great business ethics.

Gather 'round
With so many good opinions about today's top companies, why not grab a pointy paper cup from the dispenser and join us at the Motley Fool CAPS watercooler? Your input can help guide other investors to stocks with bright prospects for growth. 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.

Novartis AG is a Motley Fool Global Gains recommendation. Natus Medical and Sun Hydraulics are Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendations. The Fool owns shares of Terex. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services 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 here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.