No one has perfect foresight, but let's be honest: The market is full of people who, as Oscar Wilde would say, know "the price of everything and the value of nothing." Far too often -- over the past year especially -- investors have been pitched sensational stock recommendations only to be left high and dry as shares crumble.

To hunt down top-recommended stocks that have been rewarding investors accordingly, I summoned our Motley Fool CAPS community to point out a few four- or five-star stocks that have been shootin' for the moon in recent months. Some are still bargains; others are getting ahead of themselves.

While not formal buy recommendations, these three-month bloomers caught my attention:

Company

13-Week Price
Change

Recent Share
Price

Forward P/E
Ratio

CAPS Rating  
(out of 5)

Caterpillar
(NYSE:CAT)

76%

$53.05

28.6

****

Costco
(NASDAQ:COST)

30%

$58.03

18.4

****

General Electric
(NYSE:GE)

50%

$16.33

17.8

****

Halliburton
(NYSE:HAL)

49%

$28.97

21.5

****

Intuitive Surgical
(NASDAQ:ISRG)

78%

$254.00

38.5

****

Data from Motley Fool CAPS, and Yahoo! Finance as of Oct. 12.

You can rerun the CAPS screen I used by clicking here.

A closer look at Costco
I'm tempted to fire off the typical reasons why investors should love Costco: Recessions inspire frugality. Companies that sell cheap stuff draw those cheapskates in. More customers, even at lower margins, mean big profit.

All true. But there's more to like about Costco other than the fact that it can rock while consumer spending is in the toilet.

Most retail stores follow a simple approach: Buy merchandise. Sell it for more than you bought it for. Keep the difference as income. Repeat until wealthy.

Costco's business model is a little different. Rather than relying on retail margins to juice its bottom line, it gets it profit predominantly from the membership dues it charges every customer. You can see the importance of Costco's membership dues by looking at different components of its income statement over the past few years:

Segment

2008

2007

2006

Sales

$71 billion

$63.1 billion

$59 billion

Cost of Goods Sold

$63.5 billion

$56.4 billion

$52.7 billion

Selling, General and Administrative Costs

$7 billion

$6.3 billion

$5.7 billion

Net Margins from Sales

1%

1%

1%

Membership Dues

$1.5 billion

$1.3 billion

$1.2 billion

Net Income

$1.3 billion

$1.1 billion

$1.1 billion

That's pretty incredible: Costco essentially sells merchandise at net margins close to 0%, and relies on membership dues to provide all the profit.

The takeaway here isn't just that Costco can sell cheaper than almost anyone else. It's that it can do so only because it has gotten large enough to where membership fees alone are enough to provide an adequate amount of total net income. This isn't a business model that can be easily replicated by startups: There's a scaling effect, where a retailer has to be big enough, and have enough members, in order to be able to sell products so cheaply that membership dues make up all the profit. That gives Costco a serious moat, even over other well-off retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE:WMT) and Target (NYSE:TGT). As CAPS member TMFSTX put it earlier this year, "It's a great model. Currently [Costco] has 55 million members paying $50.00 or more a year renewing at 85%. You do the math."

Your turn to chime in
Have your own take on Costco? More than 140,000 investors use CAPS to share ideas and swap opinions. Click here to check it out and speak your mind. It's 100% free to participate.

For related Foolishness:                                                                        

Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Costco and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Costco is also a Stock Advisor selection. Intuitive Surgical is a Rule Breakers recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Costco, and has a disclosure policy.