Growth stocks are the beauties of the stock world, plain and simple. They're exciting, they have good stories, and they can make you a lot of money.

But for all their beauty, growth stocks are also the prima donnas of the market. They can be erratic, they don't always live up to their billing, and they tend to attract a shareholder base that's ready and willing to run at the first signs of slowdown. For those reasons, caution is certainly in order when you enter the world of growth investing.

Fortunately, The Motley Fool's CAPS service brings us the collective intelligence of a community of more than 145,000 investors and is a great resource for separating the Jessica Albas from the Jabba the Hutts. Each of the stocks competing for this week's top spot has a market cap of at least $100 million and grew its earnings per share by an average of 15% or more per year over the past three years. (You can run the screen for yourself to get full results.) So let's go ahead and meet our contestants.

Company

Three-Year EPS Growth Rate

Price-to-Earnings Ratio

CAPS Rating
(out of 5)

Baidu.com (NASDAQ:BIDU)

92%

75.1

**

Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG)

35%

54.8

****

SINA (NASDAQ:SINA)

24%

39.6

***

Precision Castparts (NYSE:PCP)

21%

16.1

*****

Family Dollar Stores (NYSE:FDO)

16%

13.5

***

Sources: Yahoo! Finance and CAPS as of Dec. 9.

Growth without good looks
Investors can hardly be blamed for being excited about Baidu's prospects; after all, it is China's version of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG). But regardless of what CAPS members think about the company, they've been cautious about the stock and have repeatedly highlighted the lofty valuation that Baidu's shares carry. Even one of Baidu's biggest fans, my fellow Fool Rick Munarriz, thinks that there's reason to be spooked by Baidu's price.

Sticking with the theme of China, SINA enjoys only lukewarm support from the CAPS community. A one-time four-star pick, SINA's online advertising business has hit a rut as the global economic slowdown has decreased ad spending in China. Though third-quarter results beat Wall Street's expectations, profit dropped 11% from the prior year.

You might think that any store that focuses on ultralow prices would be a hit with investors during a recession, and to some extent Family Dollar has been. After plummeting in late 2007, shares charged ahead through the market's worst stretch earlier this year. But despite the stock's historical returns, CAPS members are concerned that a waning recession may mean that shoppers will be willing to break out more than just Washingtons when they're shopping.

Strutting their stuff
Surgical robots apparently do the trick for investors. Though Intuitive Surgical is one of the priciest stocks in the list above, CAPS members seem convinced that the company's da Vinci surgical systems will allow the company to deliver on the promise of hot growth now and into the future.

But Intuitive Surgical's four-star rating just didn't give it enough oomph to top this week's top growth stock, Precision Castparts.

With healthy historical growth and a reasonable valuation, it shouldn't be all that surprising that this maker of complex metal components for airplanes is a big hit among CAPS members. Thanks to the global economic slowdown, purchases from major airplane manufacturers like Boeing (NYSE:BA) have slipped, trickling down to Precision. Though this tough environment contributed to a 28% year-over-year drop in the company's second-quarter revenue, management believes that this past quarter may have been the bottom.

Meanwhile, CAPS members have stuck with Precision's stock. More than 1,250 members have rated the stock an outperformer versus just 30 who think it will lag the rest of the market.

CAPS All-Star terpgrad gave the stock a thumbs-up back in September and said:

This is an extremely well run company, a leader in specialized parts for aerospace, great relationships w. customers. lots of cash, min debt. not a flash in the pan but a long-term winner, top drawer company.

Now go vote!
Do you think that Precision Castparts has what it takes to be America's next top growth stock? Head over to CAPS and let the rest of the community know what you think.

Growth is great, but cheap can score big for you, too. Check out the stock that Tim Hanson thinks is outrageously cheap.

Baidu, Google, and Intuitive Surgical are Motley Fool Rule Breakers selections. Precision Castparts and SINA are Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections. 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 portfolio, or you can connect with him on Twitter @KoppTheFool. The Fool's disclosure policy would surely win America's Next Top Disclosure Policy, but for some reason there's no such contest.