Whether it's 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 water cooler daily to rate stocks and delve into their merits as investments.

Our 140,000-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

Fannie Mae (NYSE:FNM)

*

1330

63%

iShares Silver Trust (NYSE:SLV)

****

1318

95%

JA Solar (NASDAQ:JASO)

****

1336

95%

Penn West Energy Trust (NYSE:PWE)

*****

1333

97%

USEC (NYSE:USU)

*****

1316

96%

A tall drink of water
Maybe Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE) are too big to fail, or maybe the taxpayers just have such a large vested interest in their survival that the politicians will funnel enormous amounts into their coffers to ensure it. If they went to the well three times for American International Group (NYSE:AIG), one assumes they'll do it for Fannie and Freddie, too. Regardless, investors have the feeling that at Fannie and Freddie’s low prices, there's little to lose in scooping up shares.

CAPS member charlesck suggests that the best way to play the mortgage giants is to use them as trading stocks, not long-term additions to your portfolio. It's a risky game, though; whereas this CAPS member figures shares will bump up on good news, there remains the potential for disaster.

Freddie Mac just reported that its mortgage investment portfolio shrank by an annualized 29.5% rate last month, while delinquencies as a percentage of its book of business rose to 3.13%. This was after the economy seemed to improve in August, no doubt prompting Ben Bernanke to tell us the recession is over. We can't blame just the Fed (OK, maybe we can), because Warren Buffett's been telling us that too -- several times.

The government has been using both Fannie and Freddie to help prop up the housing market. Just such an intervention was one of the concerns that critics had when the government first took over the agencies. Critics feared that such intervention would create an overly concentrated system that could come crashing down around us. The Fed is on its way to purchasing $1.25 trillion worth of mortgage-backed securities to prop up the housing market, while the Treasury is on the hook for the losses of Fannie and Freddie, which guarantee or own a combined $5.4 trillion in mortgages.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, the Federal Housing Administration backed 40% of all new home loans in August, even though its reserves are almost below the legal minimum. All this while Ginnie Mae (the Government National Mortgage Association) expects to top $1 trillion in mortgage exposure by year's end -- but with only half the reserves it had in 2007. That means its leverage ratio is 33 to 1, or about what Bear Stearns had before it collapsed.

I'm not sure I like Fannie, Freddie, Ginnie, or any of their redheaded stepchildren as an investment anytime soon, trading or otherwise. CAPS All-Star dbillett1 would agree. Even if traders caused Fannie Mae's stock to jump around, this member believes the enterprise will eventually go bust. What that means for our economy at that point is anyone's guess.

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 water cooler? 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.

The Fool owns shares of iShares Silver Trust. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Rich Duprey also owns shares of iShares Silver Trust but does not have a financial position in any of the other stocks mentioned in this article. You can see his holdings here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.